Wednesday 28 September 2016

Inquiry into GSOC probes draws to end

Ex-minister launches attack on Garda watchdog powers

Greg Harkin

Published 25/01/2016 | 02:30

Gda Sgt Michael Galvin: tragic death followed GSOC inquiry. Photo: James Connolly
Gda Sgt Michael Galvin: tragic death followed GSOC inquiry. Photo: James Connolly

Final legal submissions are being made by lawyers at a special inquiry set up to examine the death of a civilian and a garda sergeant which could have serious implications for the future conduct of inquiries by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

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The Clarke Inquiry, which has been sitting in Dublin since last September, was set up Justice Minister Francis Fitzgerald following the suicide of Sgt Michael Galvin at Ballyshannon Garda Station last May.

Sgt Galvin had been questioned by GSOC investigators following the death in a road traffic collision in Ballyshannon of Sheena Stewart in the early hours of New Year's Day last year.

The father-of-three had come into contact with Ms Stewart on the night of her death.

Mr Justice Frank Clarke of the Supreme Court has heard evidence from gardaí and GSOC investigators over how the case was handled.

There was uproar last June when the Irish Independent was told by GSOC that Sgt Galvin had been cleared of any wrongdoing in the days before he took his own life.

His widow Colette, speaking at his funeral in Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim, had hit out at the GSOC probe.

Rank and file gardaí want a change in how gardaí under investigation are told of any inquiries and a new system put in place to tell them of GSOC decisions as soon as they become known.

The Galvin family haven't made any comment on the case whilst the Clarke Inquiry continues.

Recommendations and a report from Mr Justice Clarke are expected before the summer.

Ms Fitzgerald ordered the inquiry after meetings with senior gardaí and GSOC representatives.

Meanwhile, former Justice Minister Alan Shatter yesterday accused GSOC of "incompetence" over its handling of the 2014 bugging row.

Writing in a Sunday newspaper, Mr Shatter said he had been vindicated by a report by Mr Justice John Cooke six weeks after he had been forced to resign.

"When I raised questions about GSOC's competence, its understanding of its own technology, its rushing into its own 'public interest' investigation, and its failure to inform me as minister of these events, it was depicted as an outrageous attack on a worthy independent agency," said Mr Shatter.

"It wasn't until publication of the Cooke Report that GSOC's incompetence was clearly established, as was its legal obligation to inform me of its public interest investigation, which it failed to do."

Mr Shatter welcomed the fact GSOC is now chaired by the "very able" High Court judge Mary Ellen Ring but added that "two of its then commissioners surprisingly still remain in office".

He also said it was "unfortunate" that former Chief Justice John Murray's review of the role of the Ombudsman was not given a broader remit.

In a pointed ending to his article in the 'Sunday Business Post', Mr Shatter went on: "It is no harm that we remind those who, in recent days, launched into instant condemnation and referenced GSOC activities as 'sinister', that until now, no commentator, TD or senator queried the desirability of extending additional powers to GSOC or that body's entitlement to access data under the 2011 Act."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced to field new questions yesterday on the continued fall-out from the resignation of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

Asked on RTÉ's 'This Week' programme if he regretted his role in the affair, Mr Kenny refused to answer the question, instead insisting he had been cleared by the Fennelly Commission interim report on the matter.

"The Fennelly Commission is reporting on a whole series of things over very many years of calls to garda stations from members of the public," said Mr Kenny.

"One element of that was an issue that was required to be examined or recommended to be examined quickly by an Oireachtas committee on justice and opposition members.

"I agreed to that and Justice Fennelly dealt with that and that matter is closed, and I look forward to seeing the completed report, whenever it comes, from Justice Fennelly on the other work that he and his commission of investigators are doing on those very important and sensitive issues."

Irish Independent

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