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Probe ordered into sergeant's death

Published 04/06/2015

Sergeant Michael Galvin was unaware he had been cleared of any wrongdoing
Sergeant Michael Galvin was unaware he had been cleared of any wrongdoing

A judge-led independent inquiry has been ordered into the suicide of a Garda sergeant who took his own life after being investigated by the force's watchdog.

Michael Galvin was found dead in Ballyshannon station last Thursday and it is believed he had shot himself with an official issue handgun.

At his funeral his widow, Colette Galvin, revealed he had been in deep personal turmoil over an inquiry into the death of a pedestrian in the town.

It is understood he was not aware he had been cleared of any wrongdoing in the investigation by the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald ordered a judge-led inquiry into Gsoc's handling of the case after meeting Garda representatives and Gsoc chiefs in Dublin.

Ms Fitzgerald offered her deepest sympathies to Sgt Galvin's family, friends and colleagues after the meeting.

In a statement she said the discussions were highly constructive and beneficial and addressed a range of sensitive matters, including legal issues and other factors which required careful consideration.

Gsoc had initiated its own review of the handling of the case but that has been cancelled after the minister asked Chief Justice Susan Denham to nominate a High Court or Supreme Court judge to conduct an independent inquiry.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) had called for an investigation into Gsoc's handling of the case and the Garda Representative Association (GRA) said the watchdog was not the appropriate body to review its own inquiry.

"We fear that the stress of this made some significant contribution, in whatever way, to this tragic loss," the GRA said.

"We fully support our colleagues in the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors in their call for independent investigation of Sergeant Galvin's death - and this must include the conduct of GSOC in their investigation of Sergeant Galvin.

"We need to be sure that this investigative process is transparent, and that the family, friends and colleagues can have absolute confidence that this absolute tragedy has been thoroughly examined, and that lessons can be learned for the future."

Sgt Galvin, a senior GAA figure in Sligo, had been interviewed following the death of a woman in Ballyshannon on New Year's Day after she was struck by a taxi.

It is understood the officer had driven past her before the accident as he responded to another call.

No findings were made against Sgt Galvin in the Gsoc investigation but a letter confirming this had not been sent to him by the watchdog before his death.

In a hard-hitting response to criticisms of its handling of its initial inquiry, Gsoc said much of the commentary has been misleading, inaccurate and inflammatory.

"We have been listening to the concerns of Sergeant Galvin's family and colleagues and public commentary for the past few days," the watchdog said.

"We believe that much of the commentary has been misleading, inaccurate and inflammatory. It does however have the potential to damage public confidence in the police oversight system."

Gsoc said it was convinced its dealings with Sgt Galvin were proportionate and reasonable.

It said it supported a judge-led inquiry and that the oversight body needed "a stronger vindication of the appropriateness of our interactions with Sgt Galvin".

Gsoc said it delayed seeking the appointment of an independent figure to examine the handling of the initial inquiry in the public interest as the officer's death had been referred to its office by the Garda Commissioner, as is standard practice.

The watchdog said it was immediately aware that its own investigation could be compromised because its investigators had previously interviewed the officer.

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