The latest scandal blowing through the ranks of an Garda Síochána, and through the “state” more generally, will be familiar enough to regular readers of An Sionnach Fionn. The changing nature of modern Ireland has resulted in a society no longer dependent on the official gatekeepers in the government or the press for information. Social media platforms and independent media have revolutionised what we can and cannot know, and this is especially true of the Maurice McCabe saga. The era of gardaí, politicians and journalists engaging in a mutually beneficial web of patronage and petty rule-breaking may be having its last hurrah. Or at least one can hope so. We have been here before, grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented as it may seem. However, the repeated exposure of recent controversies, and the manner in which even the highly compromised newspapers of the political right have had to address them, may indicate that a more fundamental change is afoot.
Of course, it must be emphasised that police officers are ordinary men and women doing sometimes extraordinary work. They are susceptible to the same emotional responses and needs as the rest of us, and it would be unreasonable to expect otherwise. However, as citizens we have every right to presume that wrongdoing in an Garda Síochána, once exposed, would be adequately addressed, and in an entirely open and honest manner. Unfortunately, the service has maintained an ago-old institutional culture closed to outside scrutiny, one where the bending or the breaking of the law for personal benefit or prestige is seen by some individuals as one of the perks of the job. Far from investigating and reprimanding illegality among its own members, senior gardaí have sought to maintain an illusion of outward probity, while carrying out internal cover-ups. This has included the persecution and defamation of “whistleblowers” and their families. Disciplining individual rule-breakers in any organisation on a nod and a wink basis simply encourages more laxity in the application of regulations. By adopting an ad hoc policy of one law for themselves and another law for Seán and Síle Citizen the management of the force has placed society as a whole in peril.