THE new Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has brushed aside controversies that have hit the force and vowed that her priority will be fighting crime.
Ms O'Sullivan takes over as head of An Garda Siochana during one of the most difficult periods in its history, with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who announced her appointment, acknowledging that it has "faced many challenges in recent times".
Congratulating the first female commissioner in the forces' 89-year-history, Ms Fitzgerald said Ms O'Sullivan has the experience and leadership skills to deliver reforms in her new role at garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park.
"The focus must now be to ensure public confidence in policing in Ireland," Ms Fitzgerald added.
Ms O'Sullivan's appointment was announced after yesterday's Cabinet meeting. The 54-year-old, who has been serving as acting Commissioner since her predecessor Martin Callinan's resignation in March, was the sole candidate recommended after the public recruitment process that saw Irish and international candidates apply.
"As Garda Commissioner, my focus will be on ensuring we continue to work closely with communities to keep them safe by preventing crime from taking place," Ms O'Sullivan said.
"But when crime does take place, we will put the victims of crime at the centre of everything we do and ensure crimes are investigated thoroughly and professionally," Ms O'Sullivan added.
Morale in the force has been battered by a series of controversies beginning with the penalty points scandal, which was blown open by garda whistleblowers John Wilson and Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Relations between gardai and the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) have been strained, with fears surfacing earlier this year that the watchdog's office had been bugged - though an inquiry later found no evidence to support the concerns.
A potential hurdle in the early months of Ms O'Sullivan's tenure is the conclusion of retired judge Nial Fennelly's investigation into the routine taping of phone calls at certain garda stations.
The issue led to former commissioner Mr Callinan's resignation and Mr Fennelly is set to report early in the new year on the circumstances of his decision to step down.
Perhaps most seriously, Ms O'Sullivan has to rebuild the force after the damning Garda Inspectorate report published this month which found systematic failings in how gardai investigate and record serious crimes, including murder and rape.
It found that 8.5pc of crimes recorded on the garda Pulse system were reclassified over 17 months up to May 2012, with 83pc moved into a less serious category while 32,000 criminals didn't have fingerprints taken. Ms O'Sullivan is to report to Ms Fitzgerald on the inspectorate's findings.
The new commissioner last night expressed confidence that gardai "will take forward the reforms and changes that will strengthen the trust and confidence in the service we provide among communities".
Fianna Fail Justice spokesman Niall Collins welcomed Ms O'Sullivan's appointment but said she "faces the substantial challenge of delivering on the reforms needed throughout our policing structures".
"There is a historic opportunity to create a world-class policing service in Ireland," he added.
Whistleblower John Wilson wished Ms O'Sullivan well but lamented the decision to recruit the new commissioner from within garda ranks.
"I believe it will take an outsider to carry out real meaningful reform of the organisation which is very badly needed," he said.
Independent TD Mick Wallace went further.
"Does she have the credentials to deliver a new police force, with a new culture? No she doesn't. How could she have when she's from the existing hierarchy? It's outrageous to think that she's going to bring a serious change to the way the force works. That's not possible," he said.
Responding to questions about an insider being appointed, Ms O'Sullivan said: "I think that [being an insider] gives me a distinct advantage because I know the organisation, I know the people in the organisation and I understand and know the community. I know the things that need to be done."
Ms O'Sullivan's appointment comes after a final round of interviews in recent days involving the chairperson of the proposed new policing authority, Josephine Feehily.
Ms O'Sullivan will be the first Garda Commissioner to work with the new body which was heralded earlier this year as the gardai was mired in a seemingly endless string of scandals.
GERRY O'CARROLL: P27