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Publish Chief Justice’s report on garda’s suicide

Sergeant Michael Galvin shot himself in Ballyshannon Garda station wrongly thinking he was to be prosecuted by the Garda Ombudsman, though no-one heard the shot

From our March 2018 edition.

If a tree falls in an empty forest does it make a sound: if a gun shot is fired in a building can it not be heard, especially when people are in and near that building?

This is something that has puzzled me regarding the death of a Garda Sergeant, Michael Galvin, a former captain and manager of Sligo hurling team, and a father of three who lived in Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim. He died on 28 May 2015. I heard on local radio that morning that a man had earlier been found dead at Ballyshannon Garda Station. The first thought I had was it would be Michael Galvin: WHY? Because I always believed he would become a Garda Whistleblower. I could see from dealings I had with him, that he wanted a more open and transparent Garda Síochána.
I had met Garda Sergeant Michael Galvin many times over the years. He came across as an honest, compassionate, straightforward and helpful Garda, who would fight any implications of wrongdoing. He appeared tenacious and I recall him saying, “it will be a long time before I retire”. Sergeant Galvin took statements in relation to Councillor Sean McEniff and others’ alleged incitements to hatred in 2013 after a home proposed for a Travelling family was burnt to the ground at Parkhill in the town.

Michael Galvin took his own life with a hand gun after being subjected to a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) investigation. Under Section 102 of the Garda Ombudsman Act, the Garda Commissioner forwards any case of a Garda death to GSOC for investigation.

Three gardaí, including Sergeant Galvin, were being investigated after the death of 33-year-old Sheena Stewart on 1 January 2015 after a night out in Bundoran, Co Donegal, when she was struck, while intoxicated, by a taxi. It is understood the sergeant had driven past her before the accident as he responded to another call At his funeral his widow, Colette Galvin, revealed he had been in deep personal turmoil over the investigation.

Sergeant Galvin told GSOC the woman had been on the pavement rather than the road when he passed her at the scene.  However, an apparent discrepancy arose between that evidence and the CCTV footage of the incident.

Frank Clarke

A Judicial inquiry under Judge Frank Clarke, now Chief justice, looked into the GSOC investigation.

The Inquiry found that GSOC should not have instigated a criminal investigation though it had done so in good faith because it was practice to do so in any case where there had been a death. Sergeant Galvin only found out about the investigation three months after it had been instigated, because of deletion by Garda of a key email. Judge Clarke found that the practice of gardaí imparting the news a colleague was being investigated needed to be changed so that GSOC did it.

An email from GSOC’s lawyer to its Investigating Officer the morning of the suicide had confirmed that though there was insufficient evidence of commission of a crime the file should be forwarded to the DPP. Sergeant Galvin never got to hear this news.

The spin from the Garda Síochána was that GSOC was responsible for Sergeant Galvin’s untimely death – and the inquiry did express concern about how GSOC informed the press after his death about its investigations into him, before his family was aware of the status of those investigations. However, the inquiry noted that the Garda were confused about, and suspicious of, the role of GSOC, and that they had been confused as to whether GSOC’s investigation was criminal in nature and had therefore inappropriately taken uncautioned statements from their three colleagues in the gardaí.

GSOC practices changed after the Clarke inquiry. Its chairperson said that it would improve its communication with gardaí and it prepared a set of information leaflets for gardaí on how such investigations should progress.
But where are the Garda Síochána changes? Certainly suspicion of GSOC has been acute since its formation. This was symptomised in the vehemence of suspicions that gardaí bugged GSOC headquarters which led to the inconclusive 2014 Cooke inquiry. After this the Garda Commissioner, Noirin O’Sullivan admitted a more constructive relationship between Garda and GSOC was required.

But the problems survive the Clarke inquiry. In 2016 Judge Mary Ellen Ring Chairperson of GSOC berated the time the Garda take to furnish documents to GSOC and the absence of sanctions for reticent gardaí.

On 1 March 2018 Judge Ring suggested that the Garda attitude towards GSOC is “we get it, when we get it”. She bemoaned the fact there is no penalty if gardaí do not comply.

Government is unenthusiastic about GSOC. This year, 2018, GSOC have sought 37 extra staff but on 25 February the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, said only five staff will in fact be provided.

More generally, the failure to implement the recommendations of the Morris report on the gardai in Donegal, and indeed anecdotes from the streets, suggest that in forty years nothing much has changed in the Donegal Garda.

I was in fact reminded of Sergeant Galvin’s death by news of the suicide of Detective Superintendent Colm Fox – lead detective in the Regency murder trial also in a Garda Station, Ballymun, on February 10.

Michael Galvin also reminded me of another Garda, Michael Lawless, who made written complaints about the untouchables in Donegal and the close relationship between Senior Garda and Sean McEniff.

Garda Lawless specifically complained that gardaí were being hindered by Senior Garda in carrying out their duties. As long ago as 1985 an RTÉ ‘Today Tonight’ focused on Law and Order in South Donegal, particularly Seán McEniff’s gaming. Donegal County Council sued RTÉ for defamation for what it said about the inappropriate relationship between Donegal County Council and the Garda but a legal settlement saw it agree to remove the programme, on the steps of the High Court.

In 2014 when Sean McEniff appeared to assault a female Councillor Senior Garda would not prosecute him and indeed the female Councillor was convicted for assaulting the garda who attended the scene.

Journalist Gemma O’Doherty’s Mary Boyle documentary contained statements from two brave gardaí that Sean McEniff successfully interfered with that investigation in 1977. Of course no action was ever taken.

The night of his death Garda Claire O`Hara, who was on duty at Ballyshannon Garda Station, was able to hear Sergeant Galvin go into his office. She recalled watching television and chatting with Sergeant Galvin from 11pm until around midnight, when she heard him go into his office. She said that at 4.40 a.m. Colette Galvin phoned the station inquiring if her husband was still there.

Garda O’Hara said that she checked all offices with colleagues and didn’t locate him. She returned to Sergeant Galvin’s own office and saw a suicide note addressed to his wife. She accepted that it may have been there when she first entered.

The inquest heard from other witnesses that Sergeant Galvin wasn’t located until after 7 a.m. when a detective came on duty who had the key necessary to open the detectives’ room where he found the dead body.

The coroner heard that, “The gun, taken with a key from the locked armoury in the station, was beneath the chair. There was no evidence anybody heard the shot being fired”. Garda O’Hara was in the station when the shot rang out yet she heard nothing. Yet the walls of Ballyshannon Garda station are not thick.

Perhaps the unpublished sections of the Clarke Inquiry’s report contain some explanation. This is what generated my puzzlement.

The Government would not publish the full Clarke report. It published extracts. At first we were told that Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Francis Fitzgerald, was waiting for the case about the road traffic accident itself to finish. However, the case ended in October 2017. So why has the full report not been published?

In recent days Jim O’Callaghan (the Fianna Fáil Spokesperon on Justice and Equality) has submitted a parliamentary question asking whether the Minister for Justice a “will publish the report by the Honourable Mr Justice Frank Clarke concerning an Inquiry pursuant to section 109 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 in full and, if so, when it is expected it will be published”.

by Patricia McCafferty