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Ombudsman reviews European vote investigation

Michael Smith

 

Fiachra O Luain
Fiachra O Luain

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission – acting through local Gardaí – is currently reviewing an investigation of the original Garda probe into how Declan Ganley acquired 3,000 first-preference votes from independent candidate, Fiachra Ó Luain, in the European election count in early June 2009 in Castlebar. Not 3. Not 30. Not 300. 3000. The error came to light – ironically – when Mr Ganley requested a recount. In a letter to the former candidate the Returning Officer has described how the votes were in bundles of 500 and 1000 when they were misallocated. This led to Mr Ó Luain’s complaining officially to the Garda that this was not just an innocent mistake but may have been “electoral fraud”. It would have required someone to move between 3 and 6 hefty bundles in with Declan Ganley’s – scarcely an undeliberated manoeuvre. Ó Luain says that if it was just a case of “human error” then he wants to identify the human, and ask him about his error.

 

Fiachra Ó Luain also says that on 16th June 2009 he received a text from somebody who was present at the count and who had helped Mr Ganley in Castlebar, telling him that there were in fact “lots” more Ó Luain votes “out there”. Mr Ó Luain gave the details of this informant to Garda but the sergeant involved failed to interview this person caused Ó Luain, he says, to lose confidence in the sergeant’s “inadequate” investigation. Mr Ó Luain claims the sergeant investigating his original complaint told him that the Returning Officer, Kieran McDermott, who considered the mistake was due to human error, had refused to make a statement or furnish him with a list of those working at the count. Ó Luain had raised with Castlebar Superintendent William Keaveny the fact that he had also been on duty during the count when the votes went missing and should therefore be interviewed as a part of the investigation. Superintendent Keaveny replied in a letter dated 7th of August 2009, but did not directly answer the request to have the case re-assigned. Ó Luain complained to the Ombudsman about Superintendent Keaveny’s failure to re-assign the case from the sergeant. The Ombudsman found against Mr Ó Luain on this part of the complaint though it agreed to investigate the “adequacy” of the sergeant’s investigation. The Ombudsman delegated to now-retired Chief Superintendent Anthony McNamara to allot the investigation to a Superintendent from within the Mayo division and he gave it to Superintendent Michael Larkin of Belmullet. Ó Luain’s European candidacy had championed the rights of Rossport residents in their battles against Shell and he was on record as having complained about Superintendent Larkin’s handling of the protests at the Shell compound so Ó Luain informed the Ombudsman that he believed the case should be re-assigned to another investigating officer to ensure due process and avoid the appearance of possible bias. However, before he received a response to this, a letter arrived from Mayo Chief Superintendent Paul Hargadon dated 22nd January 2010; strangely telling Ó Luain that Superintendent Larkin had “found no evidence to suggest that members were in breach of discipline”.

Ó Luain wrote to the Ombudsman to point out that Superintendent Larkin had been requested to investigate only one particular Garda sergeant who, he alleged, had conducted an inadequate investigation. Furthermore, the fact that the letter was mistakenly addressed “Dear Mr McCabe” did not inspire Ó Luain’s confidence that the matter had been considered properly and showed that Chief Supt Hargadon had flippantly signed off on an Ombudsman investigation without even reading the letter properly. Mr Ó Luain told Village he was concerned that a Mr Benny McCabe, who had lodged a complaint about his treatment by Garda at a Rossport protest, may have received a letter addressed “Dear Mr Ó Luain”.

Ó Luain objects to the way the Garda ombudsman referred the two complaints to the Garda Commissioner who in turn referred them to two Gardai in Mayo, both of whom he feels were inappropriate choices. He is also critical of Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, for rejecting his call for a full departmental investigation into the issue, though he is proposing an overhaul of the electoral system.

The 28-year-old also revealed to Village that the US State Department offered him the opportunity to discuss these issues. Ó Luain has decided that it is better to allow An Garda Síochána the opportunity to do their job properly before bringing this issue to the attention of foreign governments. All this may seem to Metropolitans like Red Indian territory but it is the most blatant electoral mistake in the history of our state. The issue deserves a transparent investigation.