herald

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Varadkar is 'not happy' with pace of garda reform but backs O'Sullivan

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar has said he is "not happy" with the pace of reform in the Garda but insisted he has confidence in Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan.

Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald called on the Taoiseach to dismiss Ms O'Sullivan in the wake of the controversies to hit the force, including the latest revelations about finances at Templemore Training College.

Speaking in the Dail, Ms McDonald argued that public confidence in the Commissioner was "in tatters".

She also claimed Ms O'Sullivan "misled" the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) by providing an assurance about the integrity of gardai finances in a letter sent on July 31, 2015, days after she learnt about the finances at Templemore.

Untenable

At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, Ms O'Sullivan said that at the time she wanted more information about the "complex" issues involved but that if she knew then what she knew now, she would have contacted the C&AG at that point.

The committee is examining financial irregularities at the Garda college.

Ms McDonald claimed that Ms O'Sullivan's position was "untenable" and asked Mr Vardakar if he had confidence in Ms O'Sullivan.

Mr Varadkar replied: "Yes I do have confidence in the Garda Commissioner and the Government does, too.

"Most, if not all of the problems that beset the gardai, pre-date her becoming Garda Commissioner and I believe that she is fighting many battles on many fronts in an effort to put things right."

Mr Varadkar conceded that public trust in the force had been "strained" due to revelations about the gardai in recent times. He said the Government had a duty to restore that trust and the best way to do that is to "ensure there is a thorough investigation of all the allegations that have been made".

"That is now under way," said Mr Varadkar, who stressed the importance of allowing separate investigations by the PAC and the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) into finances at Templemore to run their course.

"We also need to accelerate the pace of reform in the gardai and I'm not happy with the pace at which reform is occurring.

"I think it is very important over the next number of months and years that we build on the reforms that have taken place but we also accelerate those so that we can do what is most important which is to restore confidence and trust by the people in the Garda."

Ms McDonald described his remarks as "uninspiring".

She said that if Mr Varadkar's comments on reform were "more than rhetoric" and if he was "serious about a new era in policing then accountability had to start at the very, very top" and he had to "come off the fence".

Kangaroo

"You have to call things for what they are and you have to ensure that the Commissioner goes in the interests of An Garda Siochana and in the interests of public confidence," she said.

Mr Vardkar rejected the suggestion that he was "on the fence", saying he had been "clear" he had confidence in Ms O'Sullivan.

The Taoiseach said Ms McDonald was contending that various ongoing investigations, including the Charleton Tribunal examining the treatment of Garda whistleblowers, should be bypassed with a "rush to judgement".

"I don't believe in summary justice or kangaroo courts," he said.

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