Sunday 28 December 2014

Trouble ahead for gardai and justice minister as inquiries' findings due

Is the worst yet to come for the scandal-weary and controversy-prone State security agencies.

Published 31/08/2014 | 02:30

Martin Callinan (left) and Alan Shatter both left their posts
Martin Callinan (left) and Alan Shatter both left their posts
Maurice McCabe

GIVEN the scalp rate to date, you'd think the worst was over for the various arms of the State's security apparatuses. The scandals that swamped the Department of Justice and the gardai earlier this year have taken out a Garda Commissioner, a justice minister and came close to toppling the garda watchdog, while a senior civil servant is walking wounded and the Department he presided over got a kicking for being secretive with the public and obsequious with gardai. And it's not over yet.

Frances Fitzgerald, who succeeded Alan Shatter after he resigned as justice minister, has been stuck behind her desk for much of the summer, keeping on top of the kaleidoscope of issues that have rocked her department sideways.

As things stand, the minister is expecting a clutch of inquiries to land on her desk before the year is out , none of which are expected to cover State agencies in glory. Here's what's still in store for her.

The Fennelly inquiry

The most politically sensitive inquiry, this is also likely to take the longest. The Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Mr Justice Nial Fennelly will be examining, primarily, whether the then Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan jumped or was pushed by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and what the secretly taped garda phone calls about the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder reveal about their investigation.

The Supreme Court judge has been asked to report back by the end of December. But given the extent of his remit, don't hold your breath.

It all started in Bandon garda station, when dozens of tapes of recorded phone conversations between various detectives investigating the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder were found last year.

By March, the then commissioner, Martin Callinan, reported to the Attorney General and to the then justice minister Alan Shatter, that this troubling recording of phone calls was widespread across all stations, raising serious legal concerns. But Mr Shatter didn't get Martin Callinan's letter, and the Taoiseach found out about so-called 'Tapegate' in a Sunday-evening phone call from the Attorney General. The Taoiseach sent the secretary general of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, around to Mr Callinan's house the following night to express "concerns" and mysteriously, the next morning, Martin Callinan "retired". The Taoiseach has since been accused of "sacking" the commissioner, exceeding his powers. Enda Kenny and Brian Purcell have refused to say what message was relayed to Martin Callinan that night.

Under pressure, he extended the commission of inquiry to investigate Tapegate to include the events leading to Martin Callinan's retirement.

Four months on, garda sources claim Tapegate is a ball of smoke, as there is nothing much on them. The Bandon tapes are another story, however. Even Brian Purcell, a cautious civil servant, called their content "explosive". The Fennelly commission has transcripts of the tapes and if other evidence of improper garda conduct emerges, the commission must investigate that too.

As for Martin Callinan's departure, Mr Justice Fennelly is believed to have already interviewed several senior figures in the Department of Justice. Martin Callinan and Enda Kenny have given written statements. They will also have to be interviewed, as will Brian Purcell.

GSOC's penalty points inquiry

To borrow that infamous phrase of Gerry Adams's, they haven't gone away, you know. The Garda whistleblower, Maurice McCabe, complained two years ago that his colleagues were abusing their discretionary powers to cancel penalty points for motorists. Three inquiries later, two official reports have vindicated his concerns, highlighting a penalty point system fraught with abuse, waste and deficiencies (an internal garda inquiry found little substance to his complaints). The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission's (GSOC) inquiry will be the final report on this persistently thorny subject.

Sergeant McCabe gave his entire Pulse file to GSOC, and spent last week being interviewed about it. The papers include printouts from the garda computer system of hundreds of cases in which motorists repeatedly had their penalty points terminated by gardai. The sheets give the motorists' names, their car registration, the date of the offence, and the names of the gardai involved. At the outset, GSOC promised "a wide-ranging inquiry" into the penalty points issue, and it can recommend disciplinary action against gardai and refer files to the Director of Public Prosecution.

GSOC's hunt for the mole

The Garda watchdog's fears that it was bugged by gardai caused a storm when details were leaked to the Sunday Times. Having emerged battered from a judicial inquiry that found no evidence of bugging, GSOC is now hunting for the mole who leaked the story in a serious breach of security. A barrister has been investigating the leak for months in strict secrecy. So much so, that GSOC won't even confirm the barrister's name. Suffice to say that key people in GSOC have been interviewed, and his report is "imminent".

Independent review of 220 outstanding allegations of garda misconduct

Frances Fitzgerald, who replaced Alan Shatter as justice minister, ordered a review of some 220 other allegations of garda malpractice - made to various government departments by the public. She wants to establish whether they too should be referred to a commission of inquiry into Maurice McCabe's allegations of misconduct in criminal investigations. The comission has yet to be established.

In July, she announced a panel of seven barristers who would "examine" the papers, but she confirmed that none of the complainants would actually be interviewed. Families only discovered this when they received letters from the panel earlier this month. Many had hoped that finally they would be allowed to present their grievances in person.

They include Lucia O'Farrell, whose son was killed by a hit-and-run driver out on bail for a litany of other offences. She says she has no faith in the review of her son's case because one of the barristers on the panel acted for her son's killer. The Department of Justice has denied there is a conflict of interest, as the barrister will not be reviewing that case. The panel of barristers were given eight weeks to complete the review of the 220 cases. The review is now under way, and the panel is expected to report to the minister by the end of September.

Garda Inspectorate report on the investigation of serious crime

In the coming weeks, the Garda Inspectorate is expected to present what sources say will be a damning report, highlighting lapses and deficiencies in how crimes are investigated. The report, conducted over two years, is the first comprehensive root-and-branch study of criminal investigations. According to sources, the Inspectorate has highlighted instances of poor practice, oversights and, in some cases, a blatant failure to record crimes reported by members of the public.

Its conclusions will mirror some claims of garda malpractice made by Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe but while he focussed on the Cavan division where he worked, the Garda Inspectorate offers a national picture of policing in Ireland, presenting the interim commissioner, Noirin O'Sullivan, with her biggest challenge yet.

Sunday Independent

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