TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said that he is not satisfied that there’s enough people within An Garda Síochána that have embraced cultural change, but says that he and his government support the force.
Yesterday, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) claimed that breath test figures were increased to fuel senior management’s chances of promotion.
Speaking on Morning Ireland today from the annual Fine Gael think-in, Varadkar said that he was disappointed to hear that news, as there had been a “huge push from the government” to reform the force.
And at the think-in itself, he had more to say about the GRA’s rejection of the report into falsified breath tests.
“I have to say I am disappointed with them,” said the Taoiseach. “They do seem to have rejected the specific findings of the report, and you know there is evidence in the O’Sullivan report to back up the view that gardaí did falsify the number of breath tests done, so to see that the GRA appears to be rejecting that finding… I’m somebody who’s a big supporter of the gardaí, as indeed is everyone in Government.”
He continued: “We live in a society that has a very low crime rate compared to other countries, that’s in large part down to the phenomenal bravery of gardaí every day. Certainly if I was a garda today I wouldn’t be happy with the approach the GRA is taking on this.”
He said that the government had undertaken a number of recruitment campaigns (there are currently 13,500 members of the force), providing new buildings and vehicles and establishing the Policing Authority.
“The government strongly supports the Gardaí and I do as Taoiseach. We’re the party that established the Gardaí at the time of the foundation of the State.
While there are lots of problems within [the force and they get a lot of bad press], the vast majority of gardaí do a very good job of fighting crime, preventing terrorism and keeping us safe – we live in a country with very low levels of crime, and that’s in no small part to the work that gardaí do.
“That’s the bigger picture and I don’t think we should forget about that.”
But he stressed that a change of attitude and a reform of An Garda Síochána’s management needed to happen quicker.
I’m not satisfied there’s been enough people within the Gardaí who have embraced the need for change and reform.
When asked if he supported Nóirín O’Sullivan’s resignation as Garda Commissioner, Varadkar said he “respected the decision she made” but it was a decision she arrived to herself.
The Taoiseach was also asked about the housing crisis, the problems in the healthcare system and the measures that will be announced in next month’s Budget.
He said that although the housing crisis was at the “forefront of the government’s mind” he wouldn’t commit to any specific promises on when the number of people in emergency housing or sleeping rough would be housed in permanent accommodation.
“I’d be extremely disappointed if it isn’t better this time next year,” he said.
Fine Gael is holding its annual think-in at Clonmel, Co Tipperary this week. Yesterday, Varadkar floated the idea of giving Nama additional powers to build on behalf of the State.
Today, although he refused to give any further details and stressed that no final Budget decisions had been made, he said that the idea was being considered.
If you take Nama as an agency, they will be in a position in the next couple of months to pay off the remainder of their senior debt, so effectively they will have done the job they were set up to do.
“We have a body that has money, has assets, has land, and has a lot of people with expertise with the skills and the know-how to finance development and building in this country. So it seems that it is a body that is ready for a new role,” he said.
Other possible Budget measures he mentioned included changing the threshold for the 49% of tax, which he said “kicks in at far too modest incomes”.
He also added that they were looking at the special 9% Vat rate for the tourism sector, which has been “helpful for tourism and employs 250,000 people”, he said, but “isn’t needed” in the way that it was in previous years.
- Additional reporting Christina Finn
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