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Get on with it: reform the Garda.

A big spin is underway about “the biggest ever reshuffle of senior gardaí” by incoming Garda Commissioner, Noirin O’Sullivan with “nearly 100 senior officers being transferred and promoted” and the Irish Times editorialising about a “bold and brave new start”. So Village  decided to have a look back at incidents of corruption, malfeasance, harassment and intimidation which have significantly compromised the reputation of the Irish police force; and to which she needs to direct herself.

The litany involves real or alleged Garda involvement in an extraordinary range of delinquency from supplying drugs to framing for murder to bullying whistleblowers.

Most infamously in recent memory, the Garda corruption in Donegal investigated by the Morris Tribunal (2002-2008) involved a sweeping range of crimes including framing a man for murder, illegal phone-tapping and intimidation of witnesses as the Donegal Garda sought to frame Frank McBrearty junior and his cousin Mark McConnell for a murder that they did not commit and, in fact, was not even a murder.

Ultimately, the Tribunal found, cattle dealer Richie Barron had probably been killed in a hit and run incident, most likely by a member of the force. Nobody was charged, some gardaí were allowed to retire on full pension and  just three were fired. Morris’s most important recommendation – to set up an independent authority to oversee the force, like Patten’s in the North, was set aside until it was forced back on the political agenda in the wake of the recent Callinan resignation,

The Ian Bailey case currently before the courts has aired serious allegations that gardaí considered paying someone in order to frame a man for murder.

In 2009, then Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern, declined to explain why the state dropped a case against a presumed Garda informant, Kieran Boylan, caught in possession of €1.7m worth of cocaine and heroin while on bail. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) informed the courts he would not pursue the case. In May 2013 a Garda Ombudsman investigation into the affair concluded with no evidence established of any improper conduct by gardaí.

It was later revealed that gardaí had disrupted the Ombudsman’s investigation. In 2014, the Ombudsman disclosed   there had been a security alert at its office arising from a suspicion that gardaí were bugging the office due to its investigation into this affair.

Several international reports found unacceptable levels of violence in the policing of Shell’s installation of a gas terminal at Rossport in Mayo. “There is a sense the law is being used to kick people into submission”, according to local parish priest Fr Michael Nallen.baxter_whistleblower

A 2007 human-rights hearing conducted by the US-based Global Community Monitor, was told by Ed Collins, an American-born local resident of how he had “been beaten, assaulted, kicked, choked, punched… kicked and battered since day one”. One alleged Garda assault left him with a knee so badly damaged that for a considerable period he was confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk. Betty Noone told of seeing gardaí drag a woman to the side of a road – “…she tried to get up, and as a third Garda left her… he kicked her”.

Noone – a 63 year old grandmother – outlined how she herself was lifted up by a Garda and thrown towards a water-filled drain, perhaps eight feet below the road. John Monaghan, a former Irish Press journalist told of how a Garda had threatened to rape his wife. He has an audio recording – that he says is of this incident. Another recording shows how sergeant James Gill joked about raping two female protesters who had been arrested. But the Garda Ombudsman found that no action could be taken against him as he had retired. He had also exercised his right to silence throughout his questioning and “largely gave a ‘no-comment’ interview” to them.

Following the death of Gerry Ryan in 2010, the Irish Independent published allegations that the drug use of high-profile figures was well-known to gardaí. A senior source had told the paper that half the trade of one notorious dealer was going into RTÉ. Despite apparent awareness, gardaí did not act on this information, instead protecting the ongoing supply as it was claimed the dealer was a “valuable intelligence source”.

An official response from the gardaí claimed these allegations came from anonymous sources and were not substantiated by facts. Other sources suggested that there was an unwillingness within the force to bring such allegations to light for fear of political reprisals.

In 2013 report by Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan found gardaí had been guilty of racial profiling after taking a blonde two-year-old Roma child into care.

Also in 2013, a whistleblower emerged alleging numerous incidents of internal fraud with dozens of members of the gardaí accused of falsely claiming subsistence, travel and overtime payments. It appears that all of these claims were made against individuals based at Garda headquarters on Harcourt Street, the home of specialist units such as the Criminal Assets Bureau, National Bureau of Criminal investigation, and the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation.   

A chief superintendent was appointed to investigate the claims but no outcomes from the investigation have yet to have been made public.

Meanwhile, individual members of the Garda were coming forward with claims of internal harassment and intimidation, to mixed effect.

Detective Sergeant Michael Buckley fought his transfer from the Serious Crime Review Team at Harcourt Square to the Stolen Motor Vehicle Investigation Unit. He claims the move was a malicious response to complaints made by him in 2011 against more senior officers who he alleged were the perpetrators of bullying and harassment. His claims were dismissed in 2012 but, following one unsuccessful appeal, he brought another to the High Court which agreed that one should be heard. Gardaí dropped the case in July last year and Buckley remained in his original post.

Then, of course, there is the case of Maurice McCabe – another Garda with an apparently good record of service. McCabe was the whistle-blower who brought the practice of deleting penalty points to the public’s attention. It was a serious charge but one which was met with defensiveness rather than outrage. McCabe made serious charges against colleagues in the Cavan/Monaghan area, including that they framed innocent people for crimes, failed to investigate serious crimes including sexual assault and hijacking, published details of a victim of domestic abuse on social media, were often drunk at work and managed very poorly. The force itself reacted by making both his personal and work life difficult for McCabe, while the ostensible political oversight provided by Minister Alan Shatter appeared somewhat deficient.

It is also worth remembering that the exposure of malpractice by McCabe was not just limited to penalty points. As the Irish Examiner noted: “other cases involving serious assault, burglary, drug crimes, and serious motor offences such as dangerous driving were also altered to give the impression that such incidents had been dealt with in a proper manner”.

The story was characterised by the infamous line: “if Shatter thinks you’re screwing him, you’re finished”, which was delivered by Oliver Connolly, the ‘confidential recipient’ appointed to support whistleblowing within the Garda. Significantly, the McCabe story also highlighted the friendly relationship between Shatter and Garda commissioner Martin Callinan – one, it appeared, which was quite conducive to ensuring that McCabe’s “disgusting” claims were sidelined.

Interestingly, the confidential recipient system was called into question by another Garda whistleblower, John Wilson. Wilson brought information to Connolly regarding apparent misuse of the Pulse system and its targeting of Ian Bailey, a suspect in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier case. He claimed that the amount of attention focused on Bailey was disproportionate to his status in the investigation and that “it is totally inappropriate for police to be scrutinising citizens without good cause”.

Wilson further suggested that such attention would likely to have been assigned from a high level. Connolly, however, did not reply to his contact, surprising Wilson who saw him as “an honourable and decent person”. Wilson had a dead rat tied to his door for his efforts.

Connolly was yet again implicated in the warning off of gardaí bringing claims to him. Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness revealed that he had been contacted by a female Garda alleging sexual harassment and that part of Connolly’s response to the Garda in question was that “the last man who used the service was now washing cars in Navan”.

Last year saw the emergence of yet another particularly explosive claim against the fundamentals of the policing and judicial system in Ireland. A former detective sergeant brought forward his complaints that warrants for monitoring of phone calls by police were misused to include conversations between prisoners and their legal counsel – conversations which are at all times protected by law.

He did so after pursuing internal mechanisms but claims he was “isolated, bullied and harassed” after doing so, for which took action against the State. It is now suspected that at least 2,800 such calls were monitored. The prison service claims these were done “inadvertently” and confined to cases where more than one solicitor was involved in each case. The government ordered an inquiry into these abuses but refused to say at the time whether it would be carried out in public.

The undermining of core procedures of justice is a serious offence in itself but recent accusations made by TD Mick Wallace suggest even more nefarious activity: namely, the complicity of gardaí in major criminal offences involving criminal gangs. These allegations were brought forward by retired Garda Jack Doyle and were supported by examples provided by a member of one of the gangs involved.

The claims allege that opportunities to arrest the leader of one drug gang were not taken due to the gang having “a senior Garda in their pocket” while, in another case, undercover gardaí intervened to prevent customers officers intercepting a shipment at Rosslare harbour. This resulted in a car chase between the two arms of State law enforcement. A Garda spokesman told Wallace that members of the Garda were indeed involved in the importation of drugs but such instances involved “controlled operations”.

Other claims included in the file given to Wallace include the contrived manufacturing of arms finds by gardaí. According to the gang member who spoke to Doyle, a handgun was hidden by him in a wooded area in Cork, the location of which was subsequently passed onto a detective sergeant. Gardaí are then alleged to have added additional weapons to the discovery in order to embellish its gravity.

Wallace’s associate, TD Clare Daly, was stopped and strangely handcuffed at the roadside for alleged drunk driving and the details leaked to the press, before the breathalyser results ultimately showed she had not been drinking at all. She is pursuing the matter with the Garda Ombudsman and in the High Court.

In late February, a Wicklow Garda went on trial accused of forging a letter from the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the investigation of a priest accused of sexual abuse.

The Minister is in receipt of a now-leaked official report into the death in 1985 of Co Roscommon priest, Fr Niall Molloy, which is expected to be published shortly.

Fr Molloy’s badly beaten body was found after a wedding party attended by the  late Brian Lenihan Sr and reportedly “at least one other senior Fianna Fáil member”. at Kilcoursey House, the Co Offaly home of Richard Flynn who was subsequently charged with manslaughter but was later acquitted. The trial judge appears to have been involved in irregular correspondence with the DPP about the case. Judge Frank Roe also appears to have known the defendant.  The file on the matter was stolen from the DPP’s office by the General, Martin Cahill, though journalist Veronica Guerin published its key details. The Sunday Times reported in November that senior counsel Dominic McGinn’s examination of the Senior Crime Review Team’s report relating to the death concluded that there was no evidence to support allegations of a cover-up.

In November the Garda Inspectorate Report uncovered a litany of shortfalls in how victims are dealt with by local officers – particularly victims of domestic violence. It made recommendations: an upgrade in technology, effective systems and changes to management practice.

One of the first actions taken by Frances Fitzgerald when she succeeded Alan Shatter at the Department of Justice, in response to the Guerin report – which investigated Maurice McCabe’s claims that serious crimes were not properly investigated by the garda and criticised the handling of the issue by Shatter – was to establish an Independent Review Mechanism into allegations of Garda Corruption countrywide. That review is considering 305 separate cases including some allegations involving the possibility of wrongful deaths, of cover up, of failure to investigate a crime and of possible Garda brutality.

In December the Minister announced a commission to investigate McCabe’s allegations specifically about the Cavan/Monaghan Division of the Garda Síochána with former High Court judge Kevin O’Higgins as the sole member of the Commission. A debate on the inquiry’s terms was cancelled at the last minute on legal advice to Ceann Comhairle, Sean Barrett.

Despite the breathless talk of reform, in January Clare Daly told ‘The Last Word’ on Today FM that she has been in touch with two serving gardai who are facing internal pressure in the force because of their allegations which include “gardai being involved in drugs”. She also claimed “there was a recent batch of garda promotions and some of the people are senior officers in areas in which internal investigations are currently underway”.

Last year Frank Connolly, who exposed the McBrearty case, wrote: “Not much has changed since I first wrote about Garda malpractice in the early 1980s”. The new Garda Commissioner, an insider, albeit a woman and one who was once forced to make sandwiches for her colleagues, will need to change the culture as well as the personnel if she is to address the festering inertia. By common consent, the Garda Commissioner should be rendered accountable to a streamlined Garda Ombudsman, and the Ombudsman should have powers to conduct investigations on its own initia-tive. And a spirit of independent service in the public interest needs to be stringently inculcated, and soon. •

[March 2015]

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