Gardai have been accused of withholding vital evidence from a watchdog investigation into alleged collusion with a drug dealer.
The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) launched a withering attack on the force over the Kieran Boylan affair and branded the actions of some officers highly unsatisfactory and detrimental to its inquiry.
It said its four-year investigation into why serious drug trafficking charges against the haulier were suddenly dropped in 2008 without explanation was hampered and delayed by a lack of co-operation. It also revealed it had "grave concerns" over the deficiencies it spotted in the handling and management of garda informers.
Ombudsman Commissioner Kieran FitzGerald said: "Withholding evidence and information from the Ombudsman Commission is unacceptable."
Investigators made 63 requests for information - only 17 were handed over in an agreed three month time frame; six took more than a year and one piece of evidence has not been received. The inquiry - the longest the watchdog has ever carried out - closed with no prosecutions brought and no gardai disciplined to date.
The question of whether there was collusion between Boylan and gardai allowing him to inform and drug traffick at the same time was not publicly revealed by the Ombudsman.
Instead a 600-plus page report on the inquiry - which will not be published - has been given to Justice Minister Alan Shatter, along with a special report outlining concerns and recommendations. The Ombudsman said it also sent its report to Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan rather than risk further delays by pursuing disciplinary actions against gardai.
Mr Shatter said the inordinate four year long investigation was a matter of concern. "It does not serve to encourage public confidence in Gsoc for difficulties or arguments to persist privately or publicly about the timely provision of information," he said.
Commissioner Callinan said a former High Court judge Thomas Smyth, appointed in 2010 to monitor the Garda informant system, has reported officers are in "substantial compliance". The commissioner said he regrets that the long delays have been blamed on the force, adding that the protection of informants is essential.
"While not commenting in any way on any particular case, the difficult reality is that at times the people who are in possession of useful information have that information because of their background," he said. "It is of the utmost importance that An Garda Siochana have a system in place which both ensures that identities of persons are protected while making sure that appropriate procedures are followed."