I don’t know why it comes as such a shock to everyone that Martin Callinan has resigned as Garda Commissioner. His goose was cooked from the second he uttered the word “disgusting” to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, and his feeble efforts to clarify what he said only made matters worse. Besides that, his casual dismissal of the Smithwick inquiry’s findings marked him as a man who valued blind loyalty to the Force above all else.
As if that wasn’t enough, his failure to cooperate fully with the Garda Ombudsman’s office and his blind rejection of the possibility that gardai might have been involved in the GSOC bugging betrayed his origins as a dyed-in-the-wool Templemore Guard.
Martin Callinan, like all Commissioners, comes from deep within the Garda culture, an organisation that displays many characteristics of a secret society within a society. He started at the age of 19, spent a little while being indoctrinated in the monastic environment of the garda training college, and then went on the beat before working his way up through the ranks, as did all his predecessors. As did his deputy. As did the Assistant Commissioners. As did, in fact, everyone from sergeant up.
Things have changed a little in recent years, with graduate recruitment, but it’s still too early for those changes to have a significant impact. The entire senior structure of an Garda Síochána is drawn from a very narrow and limited slice of humanity, with its own fixed beliefs and mythologies. No doubt there are individuals of exceptional ability among them — I could mention a few names — but such an incestuous promotional structure can’t be a healthy model for any organisation. The only other similar structures in the country are the Catholic clergy and organised criminals.
We’ve seen time and again how rigid and inflexible the Garda management mindset is. By the very nature of the way senior staff are appointed, the force is inevitably stuck two or three decades in the past. It’s very telling that no member of an Garda Síochána made it onto the shortlist for appointment as PSNI chief constable. They weren’t up to scratch.
This would be a good time to cast the net wide in the search for a replacement. Ideally, the successful candidate wouldn’t be two or three years away from retirement, as most commissioners have been . With luck, the new appointee would have a broad and varied experience of business, policing and management. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too much to ask for a Commissioner who places a value on openness, and the ability to communicate in plain English. And maybe it would be a good thing to appoint an individual with a wide and varied range of personal interests and accomplishments.
The force, through its own inability to cope with criticism, has left itself open to radical change. There will be a police oversight body of some kind. The Ombudsman will have far greater powers. There will be accountability. The last thing the guards need now is an apparatchik with a siege mentality and an obsession with secrecy, but even more than that, it’s the last thing the country needs.
[UPDATE] It now turns out that Callinan resigned because of revelations that the Gardai had been trampling on suspects’ rights for decades.