Sunday 25 February 2018

Fitzgerald's vow on whistleblowers

Newly-appointed Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald says a new era in policing has begun
Newly-appointed Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald says a new era in policing has begun

Ireland's new Justice Minister has vowed to listen to whistleblowers and critics as she declared a new era and culture of policing has begun.

Frances Fitzgerald was handed the job after the shock resignation of a party colleague who was found to have inadequately handled allegations of corruption and malpractice in the Garda force.

The former social worker and mother-of-three, promoted after three years as Children's Minister, said the attitudes and actions that led to recent crises of confidence in policing have to be changed.

Ms Fitzgerald took up her new role on the eve of the publication of a devastating report which forced Alan Shatter to resign.

The 300 page document, compiled by senior counsel Sean Guerin, has uncovered damning failures in the way the Department of Justice handled allegations of malpractice, negligence, corruption and falsification of records by officers.

Twelve complaints were first sent to Mr Shatter more than two years ago.

Ms Fitzgerald said one of her first tasks as Justice Minister will be to open consultation on the make-up of an independent Garda authority to work alongside the Garda Ombudsman and Garda Inspectorate in providing oversight of the Garda force.

"I recognise there's a very large amount of work to be done in the department, a huge range of challenges that must be met," she said.

"It's important I believe that we don't just have structural reform, that's very important... but clearly what we need as well is a new era, a new culture so that the Irish people, the Irish citizens can have confidence in our policing system, confidence in our police, a critical part of our democracy, and confidence in our justice system is equally critical.

"I also want to pay tribute to the whistleblowers - we do have to listen to critics, we do have to listen to critics of the system. We have to be open to hearing what they have to say, that's very important."

Ms Fitzgerald was appointed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in a mini reshuffle who praised her reform of children's rights.

"I know she will bring the same energy, commitment and reforming zeal to her new role as Minister for Justice and Equality," the Taoiseach said.

Fine Gael party colleague Charlie Flanagan will take over the Children's Minister role. The position of Defence Minister - which was also held by Mr Shatter - will temporarily come under the Taoiseach's department.

Mr Shatter was forced to stand down weeks after the Garda chief Martin Callinan stunned the country with his resignation amid a storm of controversies involving his force.

The Guerin report to be published tomorrow into the handling of complaints is expected to shine a light on the inaction in the Department of Justice and the Garda which played a part in both men's downfall.

It has recommended a wide-ranging statutory inquiry into alleged corruption and malpractice.

Some of those relate to murderer Jerry McGrath, from Dundrum, Co Tipperary, who was twice released on bail, first for an assault and then over an attempted abduction, before he went on to kill Sylvia Roche Kelly in a hotel in Limerick in 2007.

Serving Sergeant Maurice McCabe and retired Garda John Wilson were the two whistleblowers who compiled a dossier of alleged bad policing, including allegations linked to the killer.

They were also central to the exposure of abuse of the penalty points system which saw gardai wipe thousands of points from databases.

The Taoiseach said the way forward now was about renewing confidence in the Garda.

"Restoring confidence to the Irish justice system now becomes the number one priority for the new minister," Mr Kenny said.

"As a Government we want transparency and accountability at the heart of our public service. It goes to the heart of what we all seek to achieve here in this house in representing the Irish people on a daily basis."

Micheal Martin, leader of Fianna Fail, said failure to properly examine corruption and bad policing claims caused an unprecedented collapse in public confidence in vital parts of the administration of justice.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams claimed there was a culture of secrecy, maladministration, unaccountability and no oversight at the top of the Garda and other State agencies that needed reform.

"These problems will not be resolved by rearranging the deck chairs," he said.

Independent TD Mick Wallace - who has been to the fore in calls for investigations into alleged Garda wrongdoing - said it would be a wonderful achievement if Ms Fitzgerald turned around the force and made it a service in which people are proud.

"Accountability is not something that they do," he said.

"Transparency is missing, we don't really know how they operate a lot of the time, we hardly know what rules they work to, we don't know if they are human rights-proofed."

Press Association

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