Saturday 22 October 2016

So you might be beginning to wonder if the dice are loaded

You might also end up thinking you'd be mad to take on the gardai and the powers that be

Published 23/02/2014 | 02:30

The Garda Ombudsman Commission office on Dublin's Abbey Street
The Garda Ombudsman Commission office on Dublin's Abbey Street

So, say you had a piece of information that you thought was important. Say it was about the gardai, about malpractice or cover-ups. And say you wanted to bring it to the attention of someone important who could do something about it. Where would you now go with that information?

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Well, you might think that there are many places you would go with that information. You could go to a politician for example. You could go to a member of the Government, or you could go to a member of the Opposition.

If you were a civilian you might think of going to the Garda Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), which is where members of the public can go with complaints about the gardai.

If you were a member of the gardai you could, until recently, have gone to the Confidential Recipient, which is where gardai or civilian employees of the gardai can go with complaints about the force. He is a confidential recipient because he would protect your anonymity. He reports your complaints on to the commissioner or the minister, but he doesn't tell them who it is who is making the complaint.

So you're sorted then, aren't you? Loads of options. Even if you are a cop yourself, there is a safe place you can go and make your complaint or hand over your information without it causing personal trouble for you.

Except, of course, it's not that simple, is it? Say you are a member of the public and you bring your information to the GSOC. But now you find yourself wondering if the GSOC's office is bugged.

At the very least you find yourself wondering why the GSOC would think they were being bugged by the gardai.

It doesn't suggest a very secure oversight body, does it? It doesn't suggest a body that feels it is being left unmolested to probe into misdeeds in the gardai. You might wonder how autonomous the GSOC is really allowed to be. When its head was called in by the Minister for Justice the week before last he fairly jumped to heel, didn't he?

You might also wonder what the point is in bringing anything to the Garda Ombudsman Commission. You wouldn't be aware of too many successful prosecutions being brought on foot of the GSOC's investigations. Even when there was a file sent to the DPP in the Kieran Boylan case, you seem to remember that no charges were brought.

You might also wonder if the ombudsman would be allowed to properly investigate your claims. You would have heard that the cops tended to use the out clause "security" considerations to limit investigations. So as a civilian you might just decide to leave well enough alone.

If you were a cop who had information about misdeeds in the force you have better options, you would have thought. Firstly, you would of course go to your superiors. But you might find that nothing happens as a result of that. So you might go to the Confidential Recipient, who was especially there "to receive reports of corruption or malpractice within An Garda Siochana". You might be assured by the fact that your claims will be "taken seriously" and "extensive protection" given to you.

But what if you found that while your anonymity was indeed protected, the system was set up so that some of the very people you were complaining about could be the people to whom your complaint went?

How would you feel about blowing the whistle ultimately to a commissioner who thinks that whistleblowers are "disgusting"? And how would you feel about the fact that wherever your complaint went, it would end up back with Garda management?

No one would suggest the management would stifle reports of malpractice or corruption, but it does seem odd that roughly the same people you are complaining about would be the people who you would be complaining to. Perhaps you might ask the Recipient if you should take your complaint higher, like to the Prime Minister of all the land. But he might tell you that it would still end up going back to the same place – the Minister for Justice and then Garda management.

And how would you feel additionally if it seemed that the Recipient, while he accepted you had evidence of problems, seemed to tell you that if the Minister for Justice found out that you were causing trouble, he would get you. You'd be pretty freaked wouldn't you?

And what if the gardai decided there was nothing in your complaints, despite you feeling you had hard evidence?

The Recipient, who might be sympathetic, might encourage you to make all this stuff known by going to the courts. Having seen that nothing came of your complaints, he might agree with you that essentially the dice are loaded in the complaints system and that it was pointless pursuing it through official channels.

At this stage you might be wondering why you are expected to retain a legal team to do your public service and you might wonder how long and complex it could be to get your complaints out there in court and how many of them could actually be aired in court.

You might also be getting concerned at this point about an apparent smear campaign being conducted against you – horrible stories about you being touted around to the newspapers and untrue gossip and innuendo being spread throughout the force.

You might start to feel that your life was being destroyed by you just trying to do the right thing.

In desperation, you might decide at this point to start going to politicians to tell them your story. You might find that this avenue too leads to all kinds of difficulties. Your good faith might be questioned again and you might even find that there is little appetite among the powers that be for you to be allowed to tell some of your story before a Dail committee.

You might find in the end that your best bet, to get the Minister for Justice or the Taoiseach, or anyone to take you seriously, might be to go to the leader of the Opposition. And suddenly, when you finally did that, there might be a chink of light after all the years of darkness. And you might find that that was the route you had to take to get your complaint taken seriously by the very people who should have taken it seriously in the first place.

And your conclusions after all that might be these: Firstly, you might conclude that we live in quite a scary country. Secondly, you might conclude that you would want to be mad to take on the gardai and the powers that be in the law and administration in this country. In the end you would probably conclude that if you want an easy life you're better off just going along with things like most people do.

If someone came to you and told you they had information about Garda corruption and malpractice, you might say to them, "Buddy. Do yourself and your family a favour. Forget about it."

Sunday Independent

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