Saturday 10 December 2016

Garda response 'proportionate' for majority of water meter installation protests

Robin Schiller

Published 18/07/2016 | 18:33

Members of the Garda public Order Unit on duty on Kildare street during the water charge protest
Members of the Garda public Order Unit on duty on Kildare street during the water charge protest

A report by the Garda Ombudsman has found that officers policing water meter installation protests acted proportionately in the majority of cases.

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Between September 2014 and August 2015, the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) received 40 complaints relating to the policing of anti-water charge protests.

In total 29 of the complaints were found to be admissible, with most of the complaints concerning allegations of assault or excessive force.

Some complaints were deemed inadmissible as the complainants were anonymous, or did not actually witness the alleged misconduct.

A garda tries to restrain a protester at the Mansion House
A garda tries to restrain a protester at the Mansion House

All of the complaints originated from Leinster, bar two which stemmed from Co Cork and Co Waterford.

As part of a policing plan relating to water meter protests, body cameras were given to individual gardai, with the recordings making up part of the GSOC investigations- as well as videos of protests on social media.

In its 2015 annual report published today, GSOC found that “no clear evidence of garda misconduct was shown in the majority of the videos.”

The Ombudsman added that “in some cases they showed that the actions of the gardai concerned were proportionate”.

Activists take part in a Right2Water demonstration against water charges in central Dublin.
Activists take part in a Right2Water demonstration against water charges in central Dublin.

Only one investigation- relating to a complaint of an assault on a female- was sent to the DPP, but no prosecution was directed in this case.

In total 1,996 complaints were made to GSOC in 2015, of which 1,102 were deemed to be admissible.

The ombudsman's office also said that more than one third of complainants did not co-operate with investigations or withdrew their complaints, making investigation difficult.

"There was insufficient evidence in many of the other investigations to warrant criminal or disciplinary action," the report said.

The ombudsman's office also ordered a survey of public attitudes to its work at the end of 2015 which found only half of people are confident the watchdog can resolve a problem.

It found 83% agreed or strongly agreed that the Garda Ombudsman makes gardai more accountable for their actions

More worrying for the oversight body was figures that showed almost one fifth of people don't know what they do and three in 10 people think the independent body is part of An Garda Siochana.

Chair of the Garda Ombudsman Judge Mary Ellen Ring said some reforms on possible disciplinary matters have been put to Government.

"We believe that some complaints, in particular those that relate to quality of service from gardai, are best addressed through a managerial rather than a disciplinary response," she said.

"We would also like to see more engagement by gardai with the informal resolution process, when minor complaints are made.

"These types of complaints, as they are currently handled, are resource intensive for both Gsoc and the Garda Siochana - and often they do not provide a satisfactory experience for complainants either. Moving towards a resolution model must be a focus for Gsoc."

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