Friday, 24 January 2014

Move along, there’s nothing to see here, says Garda Commissioner

Move along, there’s nothing to see here, says Garda Commissioner - Crime & Law News from Ireland & Abroad | The Irish Times - Fri, Jan 24, 2014

I thought I was finished blogging for the day, when I came across this blistering piece of form from Miriam Lord in The Irish Times (above).

In a post the other day I wrote about Ireland's problems being so endemic and culturally-embedded that it would take decades for the country to put its house in order.  I felt at the time that it was a bit of an empty allegation to leave hanging, but at the same time the subject is just so vast and so frustrating that I genuinely wouldn't know where to begin.  Also, it was getting late and Camilo was getting annoyed that I was still up.

But here you have just a day or two later a prize, Grade-A, first class, award-winning, prime example of the sort of problems that I referred to.

Can you imagine the Chief Constable of an English police force or Police Scotland appearing before a House of Commons or Scottish Parliament Select Committee and telling the parliamentarians they had no business inquiring into the behind-the-doors workings of his force, and following that up with a threat against future (or "so called", in the words of the Garda Commissioner) whistle-blowers?

On the one hand the exchange represents what in some circumstances can be great about Ireland: the laid back attitude; the flexibility; the lack of a 'stick-to-the-rule-book-at-all-costs' attitude that many jobsworths elsewhere cause people to be driven to distraction.  But at the same time, it is an equally frustrating culture of who you know not what you know; favours and jobs for the boys; "Is it a pint or a transfer you'll be having, Garda?" - as a cabinet minister allegedly inquired of a police officer who came to shut down a pub that was operating outside its licenced hours, and inside of which happened to be a senior member of the Government.

This attitude leads to cover-ups, a culture of silence, a lack of customer service, and a complete failure to take responsibility.  Five years after the banking crisis in Ireland (during which nobody blew a whistle), most of the middle- to high-level executives in Ireland's banks who led their companies and the country to ruin were still in their jobs drawing hefty salaries.

Ireland is a great place, but ultimately the people are too nice.  Nobody wants to be the bad guy, and nobody wants to take tough decisions: those that do are looked on as being mean and lacking compassion.  In a previous job during a recruitment process I once proposed to the senior HR person overseeing the process that the potential hire be placed on real probation for 2 years, rather than the pretend probation that nobody ever failed.

Her response was one of horror: how could I possibly suggest putting my line manager in such a difficult position that she would actually have to make some sort of hard decision (that in theory her six-figure salary was meant to remunerate her for)?  "She would be in an impossible position", I was told.

It's the sort of attitude that works in a small, rural country where everybody knows everybody else, and where everyone will be treated with the same leniency because everybody knows who to call to get what favours done.  But Ireland isn't that country any more.  The Greater Dublin Area is home to 40% of Ireland's population.  You are only going to get favourable treatment if you are an insider and have connections (probably Fianna Fáil or the GAA), or have wealth and influence.  Then your speeding points will disappear; it's the little people who have to suffer the inconvenience of going through the statutorily-established system.

Keep your head down, don't rock the boat, don't speak out and don't lets embarrass anybody and sure it'll all be grand.

Civil Service Performance Review Deemed A Failure

Only in Ireland would only 1% of civil servants be deemed to be in "need of improvement" during a performance review.  Keep your head down as a civil servant at the Department of Finance (1998-2008 number of economics PhDs employed: one), be one of the lads and a "team player" and you will be made Secretary General of the Department; don't cause trouble there and you will be made Financial Regulator.

Where could it possibly go wrong? Oh.

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