Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Whistleblower vindicated in review

A report by barrister Sean Guerin has criticised the police and justice ministry

Ireland's police force is staring down the barrel of a third major corruption inquiry in just over a decade after a whistleblower sergeant was vindicated in a six year battle.

A justice minister, some of the top brass in the force and its official watchdog have all been criticised for failing to properly investigate allegations of rogue and sloppy policing.

Among the disturbing complaints reported to authorities over the last five years - but inadequately acted on - are investigations into an attempted rape, child abduction, false imprisonment of a girl and child pornography.

An eight week review of the claims found that no official body was prepared to accept the word of the highly regarded officer.

Sergeant Maurice McCabe, the man who risked his life and his career to expose the catalogue of failures, has now been held up as a respected and dedicated police officer.

"No complex organisation can expect to succeed in its task if it cannot find the means of heeding the voice of a member whose immediate supervisors hold him in the high regard in which Sgt McCabe was held," the report said.

The 300-page review concludes with the damning indictment that Sgt McCabe was left isolated by the Garda force, the justice minister and the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission.

A judge-led tribunal will be set up to review the entire affair which has dogged the Government and the Garda for months and this week led to the resignation of the justice minister Alan Shatter.

It will follow the mammoth Morris tribunal which exposed the shocking extent of corruption and negligence in some ranks of the force in Donegal in the 1990s.

And it will be less than a year since the Smithwick inquiry reported on collusion between the Provisional IRA and someone in the force that led to a double murder of two RUC officers.

That tribunal's finding that Garda officers prized loyalty to the force above all else was dismissed out of hand last December by former commissioner Martin Callinan, who quit in March.

As far back as 2009 Sgt McCabe warned his concerns were "Donegal all over again".

Without any findings on the veracity of the corruption claims, the Government has already moved to plan for an independent police authority to work with the Garda Ombudsman and Garda Inspectorate to oversee the force.

The newly appointed Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald declined to say she had confidence in the top civil servant in her department, Brian Purcell, after the report was published.

"The secretary general of my department will ensure that the handling of complaints received by the department meets with best practice in receiving and responding to complaints," she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said the force would undergo root and branch reform if needed.

Following his probe, barrister Sean Guerin urged the Government to focus on the 12 major McCabe allegations in the statutory inquiry.

The most serious is the Garda handling of murderer Jerry McGrath, from Dundrum, Co Tipperary, who was twice released on bail, first for an assault and then over an attempted abduction, before he went on to kill Sylvia Roche Kelly in a hotel in Limerick in 2007.

Others include the Garda investigations into several public order incidents and a possible sex assault in Co Cavan in 2007.

There is also the assault and false imprisonment of a girl in Cavan in 2007 and the loss of a computer seized in the investigation of sex offences and child pornography by a priest.

Issues are also ongoing over the malpractice and corruption relating to the Garda records system Pulse.

It also recommends a probe into how the Garda chief, former commissioner Martin Callinan, who quit in March, and Mr Shatter, who resigned on Wednesday, dealt with the disturbing concerns flagged up to them.

Mr Shatter was said to have accepted the word of the police chief without question when the allegations landed on his desk in 2012.

The report concluded there was a danger in Irish policing that a critical voice is regarded as an outsider.

"The whistleblower, like the referee from whom he gets his name, is seen as someone who is not on the team," it said.

"The challenge of accommodating and learning from the legitimate criticism is always going to be a difficult one, especially in a disciplined force."

The review said that Sgt McCabe was found to have acted without malice in making his reports of wrongdoing.

But Mr Guerin said the officer - respected by four high ranking officers who gave glowing references of his police work - suffered personal and professional consequences which give cause for concern.

He has also been banned from accessing the Garda database Pulse after being at the centre of exposing abuse of the penalty points system.

During his efforts to uncover corruption Sgt McCabe was subject to a death threat which saw him step back from involvement with Garda internal inquiries.

Mark Kelly, head of human rights body the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), said recommendations from the Morris inquiry in 2006 should have been introduced.

"Sergeant Maurice McCabe emerges from the pages of the Guerin review as a man grievously wronged," he said.

A decision on whether Sgt McCabe will be allowed access to the Garda database Pulse.

John Devitt, Transparency Ireland chief, suggested the statutory inquiry also examine the murder investigation into the killing of Father Niall Molloy in mysterious circumstances in a house in Co Offaly in 1985.

"Allegations of corruption can be passed off as the behaviour of a few rotten apples. However, we will only know how systemic these problems are if a comprehensive inquiry is established," he said.

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan said the Guerin report was being examined to see if any immediate actions can be taken as part of wider reforms.

"As the Minister for Justice & Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD said today 'An Garda Siochana is fully committed to a sea change in its culture and to re-new and re-invigorate the organisation'," she said.

"An Garda Siochana will fully co-operate and facilitate the commission of investigation in its examination of the serious issues raised by the report."

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