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Mark Stedman

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has announced she is retiring

She is retiring after 36 years in the gardaí.

GARDA COMMISSIONER NÓIRÍN O’Sullivan has announced that she is retiring from An Garda Síochána after 36 years.

O’Sullivan notified Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan this afternoon, thanking them for their continued confidence in her.

She also thanked former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and former Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

In a statement released this afternoon, O’Sullivan said:

The support for me to continue in the role is evident. However, I devoted much of my summer break to considering if continuing would be the right thing to do.
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.

Modernising the gardaí

The commissioner expressed the hope that her successor would be given the space and necessary supports in which to do the job, build on the platform that has been developed over the last three years, and move forward the modernisation programme, which she said, will see An Garda Síochána become a beacon of 21st century policing.

Calls have been mounting in the last year, and in recent weeks, for the commissioner to step aside due to the ongoing scandals emerging from the force.

This week, An Garda Síochána revealed the full-scale of the breath test scandal. Its internal investigation found a discrepancy of 1.4 million tests over an eight-year period.

Despite speculation that the commissioner had her eyes on another job abroad, O’Sullivan said she was not leaving her role to take up another job.

In early summer, she said international colleagues encouraged her to apply for the top job in Europol.

She said her colleagues said it would be a prestigious appointment for an Irish citizen, so she considered applying for the position.

In the end, she decided not to proceed with the application, she explained.

1 Noirin_90515491 Noirin O'Sullivan at Leinster House for the Public Accounts Committee.

‘New phase of her life’ 

“I may decide to take on some other interesting and exciting challenge down the line,” she said, but added that for now her intention is to retire and take some time with her family and adapt to the new phase of her life.

The commissioner also issued a message on the gardaí’s internal portal system, which delivered a message to all staff.

The message pointed out that despite the controversies of the past few years, the general public “still registers a high degree of confidence in An Garda Síochána”.

The commissioner thanked staff for their hard work and commitment in protecting and serving the community during what she described as an “unprecedented and difficult time for policing”.

Despite the unprecedented challenges, controversies and criticisms of the last few years, she said she will look back on her 36 years in the service with enormous pride.

“Being a guard is the best job in the world. You’re committed to the public good. You’re encountering people at the lowest points in their lives. You can make a difference. As long as you avoid cynicism, you can make a profound difference – for the better – in other people’s lives,” concluded the statement.

The commissioner said that she would be making no further comment at this time.

Acting Commissioner appointed 

In addition to the statement from the commissioner this afternoon, the Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said that under the provisions of section 32 of the Garda Síochána Act
2005, he is appointing Deputy Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin as Acting Commissioner with full powers coming into effect from midnight tonight.

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE  758A9381_90520056 Minister For Justice Charlie Flanagan Eamonn Farrell / Eamonn Farrell / /

“I wish Commissioner O’Sullivan and her family well in her retirement,” he said, adding:

I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Commissioner O’Sullivan and to acknowledge her public service to the State over the course of an accomplished 36 year career in a variety of roles in An Garda Síochána, which ranged from under-cover detective work in Dublin’s inner city in the 1980s to being appointed to the most senior position in the service in March 2014.
Since the establishment of An Garda Síochána, the role of Commissioner has been a hugely demanding one but I want to acknowledge that, during Commissioner O’Sullivan’s tenure, she was faced with particularly significant difficulties, many of which had built up over several decades.
Commissioner O’Sullivan showed enormous resilience, determination and integrity in addressing those challenges and, in particular, in instituting a radical reform programme to modernise our policing service with the aim of providing the people of Ireland with world-class policing.

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.

Flanagan said he would brief the government at the next Cabinet meeting and would press ahead with the necessary reform programme of the gardaí.

“I have no doubt that the men and women of An Garda Síochána who serve Ireland in the frontline of policing have the appetite to embrace and drive that change,” he concluded.


Reacting to the breaking news, Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats said the commissioner’s departure must be the start of a wider clear out of within garda management.

“The departure of the Garda Commissioner must be the start of a fundamental clear out at the top of An Garda Síochána. It is crucial that this is only the first step in a wider effort to rebuild the force from the ground up. Leadership and accountability are not about securing scalps, but about ensuring that our police force undergoes the radical and transformative changes needed to rebuild morale and ensure public confidence and trust,” she said.

Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin welcomed the Commissioner’s decision to stand down, stating:

“While I recognise the decades of service that Commissioner O’Sullivan has given the State it is clearly in the interests of policing and the urgently required reform of An Garda Síochána that we have new leadership in the force.

“The new Garda Commissioner will be the first to be appointed by government on the recommendation of the Policing Authority,” he said, calling for an international competition with clear criteria to be set out by the Authority.

“I have always said that this was not a issue of changing one individual but a culture, and the new Commissioner must be resourced to ensure that cultural change comes about.”

‘People saw it as toxic’: Why just seven gardaí made submissions to the breath test probe>

Read Someone should be held accountable for false breath tests – but not yet, says government>

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