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Monday 19 February 2018

Callinan warning on informants

Garda commissioner Martin Callinan arrives to be questioned by the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions
Garda commissioner Martin Callinan arrives to be questioned by the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions

Garda chief Martin Callinan has warned there could be mass assassinations if the force's watchdog was given unfettered access to classified records.

The country's top police officer said he had "no crib" with the Garda ombudsman carrying out its role generally.

But the commissioner said he had legitimate concerns about how very sensitive details were handled.

In the latest twist in continuing tensions between the force and its official oversight body, Mr Callinan said the crux of the disharmony was down to how top-level intelligence was handled.

The police chief said he needed reassurance on certain disclosures to the ombudsman relating to informants.

"Otherwise we will have bodies lying all over the country," he said.

Mr Callinan was hauled before TDs and senators to answer charges that his rank and file were not co-operating with the official State investigators.

The commissioner warned it was the "nature of the game" that there would always be tensions between his force and its official watchdog.

This was because of the type of allegations being levelled against his officers and investigated by the ombudsman.

"Will there be tensions? Will there be issues? Of course there will," he told an Oireachtas committee.

But he added that he was more comfortable that both sides could move on in a spirit of co-operation after recent negotiations led to new protocols on the handing over of information.

Mr Callinan said one officer has been arrested by the ombudsman, while two Garda stations were searched - in Cork and Limerick - under powers handed over to the watchdog.

The Garda chief also denied any Garda informants are being run "off the books".

"If I find out about it I will deal with it and will deal with it in the most serious way," he said of any rogue officers.

There are very strict policies in relation to registering informants in the force's Covert Human Intelligence Source (Chis), Mr Callinan told the joint committee on public service, oversight and petitions.

But he refused to disclose how many people are currently on the system or how many Garda officers are running informants.

Earlier this year the Garda Ombudsman, appearing before the same parliamentary committee, laid bare tensions between the two State agencies.

Simon O'Brien, chairman of the watchdog, accused the Garda of delaying its investigations and questioning its motives when asking for records or information.

But Mr Callinan said the fact that both sides do no see eye to eye on some matters was something they would have to work through.

In particular, the Garda chief said in it was a very serious matter for him - and for the citizens of the country - that he did not hand over secret details about police informants without knowing precisely where that information was going.

"We would surely be putting a life or lives at risk," he added.

"I have to be assured that the information and intelligence is handled in a particular way and can not be disclosed to a third party."

Mr Callinan said it was this issue which was causing difficulties in some, but not all, in the soured relations with the Ombudsman.

But he pledged his support for the watchdog, which he said had a valuable role in bolstering public confidence in his own force.

To this end, he pointed out that the Garda had spent nine million euro carrying out inquiries on behalf of the Ombudsman since it was set up in 2007.

Press Association

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