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OPINION: Guardians of the peace a law unto themselves?

December 4th, 2017 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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GARDA corruption, like cellulite on someone’s bum, does not become visible overnight.  It slowly develops below the surface of the body politic, much in the same way as a bacterial infection spreads in a living person.

And, although corruption within the Gardaí is typically manifested by a pungent and disgusting odour, it isn’t necessarily a disorder that adversely affects all members of the Force. For instance, it rarely attacks the ordinary Guard who goes about his/her business with the best will in the world, keeping the streets safe and, in exceptional situations, risking life and limb.

The humble guard is a valuable public servant that the nation has respected and honoured since the foundation of the State. The same cannot be said of the bosses whose controversial antics, in conjunction with incompetent ministers for justice, have contributed to the notion that the Force may be spinning out of control.  

With controversy following controversy and one scandal replacing another, the plain people of Ireland are left scratching their heads, wondering what on earth is going on? Is it that the guardians of the peace – the people that the nation entrusts with the responsibility of preventing crime and maintaining public order – have gone mad and become a law unto themselves?

Because in whatever way corruption is defined, recent events within the highest levels of Garda management have created a thick wall of stink that sends one running to find clean air. The fact of the matter is that a rottenness seems to exist at the focal points of Garda decision making, and it’s disgustingly similar to fermenting garbage!

 

Mind-boggling

The examples pile up. Some weeks ago, it was publicly revealed that the number of falsified breath tests was 400,000 more than the 1.5m originally stated.  This came after Gardaí confessed last March that of the two million alcohol breath tests claimed to have been carried out on motorists between 2012 and 2016, one million had never actually happened! 

The Gardaí also were forced to admit that 1,470,000 people had been wrongly summoned to answer charges relating to road traffic enforcement and penalty points. Only 14,600 of the people summoned were convicted.

An independent report by Crowe Horwath to the Policing Authority (published November 1st, 2017) makes for grim reading.

It comes to the conclusion that ‘the precise extent of the discrepancy in relation to the Mandatory Intoxicant Test (MIT) by the Garda Síochána and the incorrect issuing of summonses instead of Fixed Charge Notices probably never will be known.’

The report also depressingly states that, while a ‘range of explanations have been advanced, inadequate supervision and poor performance management’ were directly responsible. 

The report’s authors state that the Garda Commissioner has been advised to put in place a proper framework for the ‘delivery of policing plans and ensuring accountability.’ Horwarth also adds that the breath test controversy was ‘a sorry chapter’ for the Garda Síochána and that public confidence has been damaged in a very tangible way.

To which the ex-Old Lady of Academy Street, De Paper, asked: ‘Can we identify any cogent reasons why a police force, tasked with upholding the law and maintaining order, could be involved in such widespread deception?’

With no answer in sight, the newspaper concluded that ‘whenever somebody roots around within An Garda Síochána,  more falsification, lies and incredible excuses keep tumbling out.’

And that’s not good enough!

 

Vile smears

But it was the attempted crucifixion of whistle-blower Sgt Maurice McCabe that alarmed people most. He had been highlighting corruption and malpractice, particularly in response to the widespread quashing of penalty points but, instead of being complimented for his diligence, he was subjected to a vile smear campaign that was carried out by colleagues and senior officers.

The politicos were not slow to seize the moment. Sinn Féin launched a no-confidence motion in regard to Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald. The party sought her resignation as deputy prime minister because of the way she dealt with an email that indicated attempts were afoot to discredit the whistle-blower.

Fianna Fáil supported SF on the basis that Fitzgerald, as Minister for Justice between May 8th, 2014 and June 14th, 2017, was aware of the campaign to undermine Sgt McCabe. It too sought her resignation – a move that Taoiseach Varadkar refused to countenance as acceptable or possible.

Fianna Fáil, whose support for the government is vital for the Blueshirts remaining in power, threatened to withdraw from its ignominious role as collegial mudguard; and the fit of pique prompted the possibility of a general election before Christmas.

 

Heavy Gang infamy

Of course, public disputes and wrangling arguments are not new to the Gardaí.  Since the 1970s, it has been under a cloud of controversy that some critics attributed to an over-reliance on World War II emergency legislation to get convictions.

It also suffered serious reputational damage as a result of the extra-judicial activities of guards belonging to the Heavy Gang, which permanently blackened the good name of the force.

The most controversial Heavy Gang case was that of five IRSP members who were wrongly accused of robbing the Cork to Dublin mail train near Sallins, Co Kildare, in 1976. Evidence was presented that the accused suffered injuries that, they claimed, were inflicted by Gardaí. Four years later the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the convictions and the men were offered presidential pardons, plus compensation of up to £750,000.

This and other Heavy Gang activities during 1973-’77 undermined trust in the Gardaí, a situation that was in part attributable to a  quasi-fascist cabinet minister, Conor Cruise O’Brien, who was well aware of the practice of assaulting detainees. 

 

Learned nothing

Much damage also was done to the rule of law when Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, Justice Minister Patrick Cooney and Defence Minister Paddy Donegan summarily closed down a major Garda investigation into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings that killed 33 civilians – the worst Loyalist/British Army-inspired atrocity in the history of the state.

There was the Kerry Babies debacle. After that the Morris Tribunal, which concluded that some Gardaí in Donegal had concocted explosives and arms finds in order to arrest targeted people. Then came the Smithwick Tribunal and the MacLochlainn Commission.

Recently we’ve had the alleged bugging of the Garda Ombudsman office (The Cooke Report) and now it is the saga of whistle-blower Sgt Maurice McCabe (the penalty points scandal).

Inevitably, decades of turning a blind eye to the dubious activities of out-of-control policemen took their toll, as did the failure to put into practice a system whereby correct policing and common sense accountability would be the norm.

All of which tends to confirm the fact that, as Ireland changed dramatically, the Department of Justice and government ministers  learned nothing and forgot nothing.

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