Wednesday 22 November 2017

Garda legal bills soar to €525,000 in just two years

Noirin O'Sullivan hires top legal brains to 'fire-fight' scandals

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has overseen a legal spend of more than €525,000 in just two years - as she continues to hire some of the most high-powered lawyers in the country to fight ongoing allegations against the force.

The force has been consistently on the back foot, following a range of allegations made by a number of whistleblowers.

Now financial records obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal a huge taxpayer-funded legal bill has been notched up by An Garda Siochana in an effort to face down its detractors.

As part of the O'Higgins Commission, established to investigate allegations of misconduct in the Cavan-Monaghan district, Commissioner O'Sullivan employed seven lawyers over a two-year period to mount a robust defence. The total bill came to €237,555. The probe was set up on foot of complaints by Sergeant Maurice McCabe. It found serious flaws and failures in criminal investigations, and highlighted how a number of victims were "not well-served" by local gardai.

O'Sullivan apologised to victims, who, she said, believed "with justification" that they were not dealt with properly by the force.

Individual lawyers earned large sums for their part in the investigation. Colm Smyth SC earned the largest amount (€72,935 over a two-year period). Next on the list is Garret Byrne, who earned €68,403.

The MacLochlainn Commission was established in 2014 to investigate the fatal shooting of Ronan MacLochlainn by gardai in May 1998 during an attempted armed robbery at the time of the 'Blue Flu' protests.

Accounts show the total legal bill came to €288,438.

Meanwhile, it has also emerged that the Government is considering the establishment of an independent, external body to deal with Garda whistleblower complaints to restore faith in the force. In a statement, the Department confirmed it is an option currently being "kept under review".

Currently, the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission has the legal powers to investigate whistleblower complaints. It is understood the new group would be separate to GSOC. However, it is unclear how such a body would operate, the levels of powers it would be given, and how many staff it would need.

A spokesperson pointed out that a report has been issued by the Policing Authority which is continuing to monitor practices in relation to protected disclosures.

"Additional resources are being provided to enhance the capacity of GSOC in this regard through the establishment of a specific Protected Disclosures Unit within it.

"The Tanaiste has indicated her intention to bring forward legislative proposals to enhance the powers of GSOC... the Disclosures Tribunal will examine certain matters relating to protected disclosures.

"In addition the proposed Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland will be examining all structures relating to policing."

Sunday Independent

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