Garda chief: leaks could result in murders all over country
GARDA Commissioner Martin Callinan has warned there could be "bodies lying all over the country" in a chilling picture of the fallout from sensitive information leaks.
The commissioner was explaining why his officers had to be extremely careful in disclosing the identities of informants, or details of the intelligence they had provided, in the fight against organised crime and terrorism.
Mr Callinan described it as "treacherous territory" and said the garda authorities required certain assurances before discussing sensitive issues with outside agencies.
He told the Oireachtas petitions committee yesterday: "We have a long tradition in this country of how people feel about informants".
He said there was an onus and a duty of care on him to ensure the lives of informants were not put at risk.
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.
He had been asked before the committee to give his response to what was described as scathing criticism of the force by the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission. It had focused on the level of co-operation provided to an investigation into the handling of informants.
This investigation focused, in particular, on the handling of informant Kieran Boylan and lasted more than four years before a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). But the DPP decided after four months there should be no criminal prosecution arising from the investigation.
Asked by committee members why he had not responded more quickly and robustly to the criticism, Mr Callinan said he was not in the business of publicly criticising another state body.
He said he had made his views known during a private meeting with Justice Minister Alan Shatter and commission chairman Simon O'Brien.
Mr Callinan said his force had no problems with oversight but co-operation has to be balanced with the rights of informants.
He needed certain assurances about the context in which any intelligence information being sought was to be used and who would have access to it. He said he had received those assurances in recent protocols that had been agreed between the gardai and the Ombudsman.
Asked about remarks by the Ombudsman on the co-operation provided by the gardai in the first seven months of the Boylan investigation, Mr Callinan said that during that period his force had handed over more than a hundred volumes of documentation, plus in excess of 50,000 pages of material.
He told the committee that in the past year the gardai had invested more than 45,000 man-hours in carrying out investigations on behalf of the Ombudsman at a cost of about €1.3m. Since the Ombudsman Commission was set up in 2007, he added, the gardai had spent in excess of €9m on those investigations.
Mr Callinan dismissed suggestions that any informants were being handled "off the books". He said if the Ombudsman had any information this was happening it should be passed on to him and he would deal with it very firmly.
He pointed out that retired High Court judge, Mr Justice Thomas Smyth, had carried out annual reviews of the system established to handle informants and found there had been substantial compliance with the guidelines.
Tom Brady, Security Editor