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Minister rejects call for watchdog probe

JUSTICE Minister Brendan Smith has rejected a call from the Garda Representatives Association for a judicial inquiry into the behaviour of Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) staff investigating a complaint of assault against a member of the force.

The Garda Representatives Association (GRA) demanded an inquiry after a jury took less than an hour to acquit the officer of assault.

The GRA's move was part of a war of words yesterday between the force's biggest representative association and the watchdog.

The row arose from efforts made by the GSOC to contact a garda witness in the case. The GRA claimed that the Ombudsman's efforts were entirely inappropriate.

The investigation lasted three years. However, after a six-day trial at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, the assault charge against Garda Brendan Whitty (29), of the Kevin Street station, was rejected by the jury.

The GRA later accused some members of the GSOC of using "excessive and oppressive" behaviour during the investigation. But the claims were dismissed yesterday by the GSOC.

It denied that its members had exceeded their lawful powers in collecting evidence at the request of state lawyers.

However, it was learnt last night that the minister told the GRA that it should discuss its complaint with the GSOC as a first step.

Mr Smith's response indicated that he could not accede to the GRA's request and that to do so would be an extreme step.

In this case, said the minister, the complaint was about the procedures and that this did not involve any miscarriage of justice.

It was understood last night that the GRA regards the minister's response as unsatisfactory and that it intends to make a further detailed submission to him today.

The GSOC said yesterday that its members had sought the co-operation of witnesses for the State, including gardai.

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It expected such co-operation to be forthcoming.

But GRA president Damien McCarthy said his association believed the case highlighted a core reason why members of the force had become increasingly reluctant to use force, because of the fear of excessive investigation.

"To my knowledge, not one member of the force has refused to co-operate," he said. "This should be of grave concern for citizens as it hampers operational policing. Gardai face great danger and remain unarmed. They must have protection from excessive -- indeed, oppressive -- investigation."

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