Thursday 21 February 2019

New garda whistleblower claims drink-drive cover-up

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

A NEW garda whistleblower has come forward claiming he was victimised after arresting a member of the drugs unit for drink driving.

Garda Keith Harrison claims the case was struck out of court "on dubious rulings" and evidence in the case was stolen by a member of the garda.

He says garda management maliciously set about targeting him while the arrested garda was afforded protection.

Garda Harrison also claims a managerial review of his work was instigated and people with whom he had interactions were invited to make complaints against him.

Over a two-year period, he was office bound, while the garda he arrested, who had been found with a high concentration of alcohol, was still driving garda cars and carrying a gun.

Garda Harrison claims a member of the Garda of officer rank stationed in the Westmeath division prevented successful prosecution of individuals in a number of cases.

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty has met with Garda Harrison and put his claims on the Dail record yesterday during a debate on the 300-page report from barrister Sean Guerin into the handling of complaints made a garda whistleblower.

Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter resigned after reading just a portion of the report.

"Garda Harrison claims that he had suspicions about a member of the Garda who was working within the drugs unit who may have been knowingly allowing the sale and supply of drugs within the Athlone district and that he had raised this with management, but he claims that it fell on deaf ears," he said.

Garda Harrison received an award for bravery in 2007 from President Mary McAleese and has made a sworn affidavit about his treatment.

"I was once a well-respected, ambitious and unblemished member of An Garda Siochana. Through systematic and relentless bullying and intimidation and unmerited scrutiny, I have, in my view, been totally undermined and destroyed.

"My good name and that of my family has also been tarnished and I now feel I have no option but to take this action. I feel I could not address this prior to now as who was I to turn and have faith in them to do the right thing? Who would believe me over Garda management? Would I make an unbearable situation worse for myself, by turning on the wolves that preyed on me? Never in my life have I felt so alone, tortured."

Meanwhile, mid-ranking gardai have rejected a government proposal to allow the Garda Ombudsman Commission to become the confidential recipient for complaints from whistleblowers.

And they told Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald (pictured) that the move would not add any credibility to the whistleblowing process.

General secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors John Redmond also questioned whether Mrs Fitzgerald was serious about proper reforms for the force.

He said many of his members had grave concerns about having to report to the Ombudsman (GSOC), "given that very body investigates complaints and allegations against those very members".

Earlier, the minister told the Dail that amending the Public Disclosures Bill giving the powers to GSOC would provide a robust and supportive environment for all whistleblowers, in line with best international standards.

"This will mean that garda whistleblowers will from now on have a strong legal framework in which to report concerns, strong legal protection against penalisation and the opportunity of a fully independent examination of their concerns.

"This historic move will mean the situation that faced Sgt Maurice McCabe can never happen again," she added.

However, the garda association is now seeking an urgent meeting with the minister to inform her of its members' concerns.

Mr Redmond pointed out that the Cooke report into the allegations of bugging at the headquarters of GSOC had not yet been published.

He said his association had already made it clear to the Dail committee on justice, defence and equality that GSOC should not be appointed as confidential recipient of information regarding whistleblowing.

Mrs Fitzgerald noted in the Dail debate that changes had been made as a result of the Morris tribunal but said time passed and systems failed.

Mrs Fitzgerald said they now had an opportunity to introduce real and lasting change.

Irish Independent

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