GARDAI in Dublin have been stunned after a highly thought of young undercover garda was disciplined and returned to uniformed duties after information he received led to the discovery of a €5m drugs haul belonging to members of the dissident republican gang formerly led by Alan Ryan.
The young garda was punished after it was deemed he was in breach of the strict regulations governing the handling of informants.
Under the "CHIS" (Covert Human Intelligence Sources) system set up after the Judge Morris report on the activities of a small number of corrupt gardai in Donegal, detectives are no longer allowed to personally handle informants. They have to pass them on to centralised CHIS units.
According to sources, the informant who passed the intelligence about the haul of 350,000 ecstasy tablets and 80kg of cannabis was rejected by CHIS officers after he was passed on to them by the young undercover garda working in a Dublin garda station. Officially, the informant was "de-registered" by CHIS as a suitable source of intelligence earlier this year.
However, it is understood the informant reverted to his original garda contact, who he personally trusted, and passed the information that led to the discovery of the drugs and the arrest of a 41-year-old man. The seizure also exposed that the dissident republicans, who claim to be against drug dealing, are themselves heavily involved in the trade. The gang involved were formerly led by the dissident figure Alan Ryan, who was shot dead last September. The man gardai arrested was released and a file is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
To the surprise and shock of gardai in the city, senior gardai then called in the garda who had received the information and told him he was being disciplined for breaching the CHIS guidelines. He was moved from the drugs unit, where he had served for eight years, and returned to uniformed duties two weeks ago.
Further disenchantment was caused by the fact that though the garda had been involved in detective duties for eight years and had carried out successful undercover operations against dangerous drugs gangs, he had never received promotion and the salary increase that would have come with being made a detective. Like many other young plainclothes and undercover gardai, he remained on the same basic garda salary of uniformed officers.
At least one other highly respected detective in the city is also facing disciplinary action for similar reasons and this too is causing concern among peers. In this instance, the detective was deemed to have breached the CHIS rules in an investigation that led to a successful conviction in a gangland murder case.
The disciplinary actions have undermined morale among detectives in the city whose work has traditionally involved them building up close links with people in their districts and gathering intelligence on crime, sources say.
These actions have also further underlined what experienced detectives in the city say are deficiencies in the CHIS system, which was introduced without challenge by garda management. However, some garda sources fear that it could damage intelligence gathering.
Garda sources say the centralising of intelligence gathering by gardai who have little personal knowledge of the backgrounds of informants and, in many cases little detective experience, is hampering investigations into serious crime.
CHIS has also added more levels of bureaucracy to the detective system, as when CHIS officers receive intelligence they pass it upwards to the Crime and Security unit in Garda Headquarters who then pass it back down to local stations. As a result, detectives in Dublin say, intelligence they receive via this system is often out of date and of little value.
Under 10 per cent of gangland murders in Dublin are being solved. In Limerick, by contrast, where more traditional methods of detective work were retained and gardai made extensive use of the witness protection scheme, there is a much higher level of detection and successful prosecution. Gardai in Dublin say that if the CHIS system is implemented, with the threat of disciplinary action against gardai acting on their own initiative, this will severely impede investigation of serious crime.
The CHIS system was introduced as a result of the report by Judge Freddie Morris after it was found that a detective in Donegal was falsely claiming that two women whom he paid money to were high-level informants within the IRA.
Garda sources say what happened in Donegal was an aberration, and add that the Morris Report recommendation went too far in introducing a system that broke the traditional system of detectives nurturing informants.