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Wednesday 29 March 2017

Longford 'no' to inquiries reform

Voters reject 'Abbeylara amendment' despite local interest

Gareth Naughton , in Longford

VOTERS in Longford-Westmeath rejected the Oireachtas Inquiries referendum by a margin of around 2,000 votes, despite the constituency's close ties with the measure.

The people of Longford had more than a vested interest in the fate of the so-called 'Abbeylara amendment'.

The constitutional change was drafted in response to politicians' impotence when it came to investigating the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of John Carthy following a two-day stand-off with gardai at his home in the small village in the north of Longford in April 2000.

It was Mr Carthy's mother, Rose, phoning from her daughter's house, who called gardai to her home on the outskirts of Abbeylara on April 19, 2000. Using his legally held shotgun, her son John had fired two shots outside the family home and she feared for his safety. She hoped that gardai would be able to calm him down.

Mr Carthy, who had a history of mental illness, was under severe stress at the time and had reacted badly to a decision by Longford County Council that the family home should be demolished to make way for a new dwelling.

Initially, two local officers attended the scene but the situation quickly escalated as random shots were fired from the house and the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) was drafted in. Attempts to negotiate with the 27-year-old failed over the course of the 25-hour siege.

The Barr Tribunal was later to find that Mr Carthy's animosity toward gardai stemmed from physical abuse he allegedly suffered while being interrogated in relation to an incident where the local GAA club's mascot had been burned.

Gardai were unprepared when Mr Carthy suddenly emerged from the house at around 6pm on the second day. Ordered to drop his weapon, Mr Carthy failed to do so and was subsequently shot four times by two members of the ERU.

The incident provoked considerable public disquiet. A subsequent attempt by an Oireachtas sub-committee to investigate it was halted following a High Court challenge by 36 gardai.

The High Court decided that the inquiry did not have the power to make findings of fact or expressions of opinion that would have an adverse effect on the good name or reputation of citizens.

The sub-committee was effectively acting outside of its powers and the inquiry did not comply with the requirements of natural and constitutional justice, according to the High Court. The Supreme Court subsequently upheld the ruling.

However, Mr Justice Robert Barr would go on to publish a damning report on the incident in 2006, where he heavily criticised the gardai's approach to the stand-off. While he found that there was insufficient evidence that the shooting was an unlawful act, Mr Justice Barr said that scene commanders had been under-trained and ill-equipped to deal with an armed siege situation.

The pain of those two days in April is still felt in Abbeylara, but Mr Carthy's sister, Marie, was careful not to influence voters when she was canvassed for her opinion on the referendum by the Longford Leader earlier this week.

"We knew it would take a full public inquiry, and that's what we were calling for at the time," she said.

Sunday Independent

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