Saturday 24 August 2019

'Troubling' - Superintendents clash with GSOC over internal investigations claim

High Court judge and GSOC chairwoman Mary Ellen Ring. Picture: Arthur Carron
High Court judge and GSOC chairwoman Mary Ellen Ring. Picture: Arthur Carron

Shane Phelan and Tom Brady

An Garda Síochána has been warned it is running the risk of being accused of cover-ups, bias and corruption because it is failing to notify the Garda Ombudsman of internal investigations.

But the comments by GSOC commissioner Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring have been greeted with bafflement by the Association of Garda Superintendents, which called on her to clarify the remarks.

Ms Justice Ring told the Oireachtas Justice Committee there were occasions when it has learned of garda inquiries into alleged wrongdoing by members of the force via the media rather than from An Garda Síochána itself.

“We are aware that the gardaí continue to conduct criminal investigations of its own members without the knowledge or participation of GSOC and we find that troubling,” she said.

Ms Justice Ring said the practice “flies in the face” of recommendations made by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland that all complaints should be routed through the Ombudsman to determine what action needs to be taken.

“This practice runs the risk of allegations of cover up or bias or corruption when it becomes known that such investigations have been carried out internally,” she told the committee.

“It runs the risk that fair and independent investigations are not seen as such by the public because they were not notified outside the organisation.

“Most importantly they run the risk of undermining public trust significantly if such internal investigations go wrong.”

The committee heard one such incident which was not reported to GSOC involved the temporary loss of a firearm and ammunition.

But her remarks have baffled the president of the Association of Garda Superintendents, Noel Cunningham, who said they did not make sense.

Speaking at the association’s annual conference in Naas, he asked Ms Justice Ring to clarify her comments as it was very difficult to understand any suggestion of a cover-up.

He said every investigation was reported through an official process and it did not make sense that anybody would try to hide an internal inquiry when a lot of people, including potential witnesses, would know about it.

At the committee, Ms Justice Ring said GSOC had also encountered difficulties regarding disclosure of documentation.

She gave the example of a historical case going back to the 1980s where GSOC was told by An Garda Síochána that documentation could not be found, but documents emerged at a later stage.

Ms Justice Ring said she was not suggesting malfeasance on anyone’s part. She said inquiries were made within An Garda Síochána to see if the documentation was there.

“It revealed nothing, so the answer back to us was: ‘There is no documentation’. And yet sitting in An Garda Síochána were indeed documents,” she told the committee.

She said that sometimes when GSOC received assurances it had received everything it was looking for, this was not in fact the case.

GSOC had asked the Department of Justice that new legislation should ensure it has a legally enforceable right to unrestricted access to all relevant documents databases and material.

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