Sunday 22 April 2018

Labour wants extra powers for garda watchdog

Party calls for GSOC to be given oversight of commissioner

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan


THE Labour Party has called for the Garda Ombudsman to be given new powers to investigate the office of the Garda Commissioner.

Senior figures within the party are understood to be pushing for the legislative change as a raft of alleged garda malpractice cases are to be released to an independent inquiry.

The demand has shifted the focus from Justice Minister Alan Shatter to the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, who has faced criticism over his handling of the garda whistleblower, Maurice McCabe, and the suspected bugging of the Garda watchdog.

The cabinet has asked an Oireachtas committee to come up with proposals to reform the Garda supervisory regime. Nuala O'Loan, the former Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland recently, said the Commissioner post must as a "matter of urgency" be made subject to Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) oversight, as is the case in the North.

Divisions have already emerged in the Coalition over making the office of Garda Commissioner accountable to the watchdog.

The Labour party is said to be uncomfortable with the present situation whereby the Commissioner reports solely to Justice Minister Alan Shatter and is seeking to introduce a separation between the roles.

A senior Labour figure told the Sunday Independent the party is seeking to make the position of Commissioner subject to oversight: "It is necessary, it is needed. The Commissioner needs to be subject to oversight, and this is what our guys will be pushing for."

Fine Gael – while officially not adopting a position – is understood to be resisting the move because of the sensitivities attached to the Garda Commissioner's role.

As the political fallout over the recent security controversies continues, the whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, is expected to hold a preliminary meeting with the barrister heading an independent inquiry into his allegations early next week.

Sgt McCabe will release two dossiers containing hundreds of allegations of malpractice to Sean Guerin, the criminal barrister who was appointed by the Government last week.

One dossier includes 20 allegations of a very serious nature, some of which he gave to the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, last month. The second dossier contains around 200 "incidents" relating to dangerous driving, drugs and road traffic offences which he claims were never investigated.

Meanwhile, a Sunday Independent opinion poll shows strong support for the Garda watchdog, which kicked off the storm three weeks ago over its suspicions that its offices were bugged.

More than two-thirds of those polled said they believed GSOC was justified in launching a public interest investigation into the suspected bugging of its offices.

Just 12 per cent said GSOC was wrong to do so, while the remainder didn't know or had no opinion.

The Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has welcomed the Government-ordered review of the suspected bugging by the retired High Court judge, John Cooke. However Mr Callinan faced calls for his resignation last week from Independent TD Shane Ross over how he has treated the whistleblower, Maurice McCabe.

Separately, the Commissioner is coming under pressure over the Kieran Boylan affair, with a number of TDs calling for it to be included in the Cooke inquiry into the alleged bugging of GSOC's offices.

The Garda Ombudsman's sensitive investigation into the force's relationship with the criminal was one of the reasons the watchdog ordered a security sweep of its offices and fuelled distrust and tensions between both agencies.

Boylan, a convicted drug trafficker, escaped prosecution on serious drugs charges apparently after it was disclosed that he was a garda informant. Mr Callinan was chief superintendent in charge of crime and security in 2003 when Boylan first started passing information to his garda handler. The Sunday Independent has learnt that Boylan was under active investigation for suspected drug dealing by international police forces at the time he was working as an informant.

He was recruited as an informant after he was arrested for drugs in 2003. But the Garda National Drugs Unit was not aware of his status and had separately targeted him in a major anti-drug trafficking operation. The criminal also came to the attention of UK, Belgian and Dutch police and Northern Ireland's police service because of his links to international drugs traffickers.

Padraig McLochlainn, the Sinn Fein TD who chaired the Dail inquiry into the GSOC bugging affair, said this weekend that the Boylan case should be examined by Judge Cooke.

Mick Wallace, the Independent TD, said the Garda watchdog's report on how the criminal informant escaped prosecution on serious drugs charges should be released to the independent inquiry.

Anne Ferris, a Labour member of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, said the current position of the Garda Commissioner reporting to just one person, the Minister for Justice, is "very unhealthy".

Labour Seanad leader and Trinity academic, Ivana Bacik, said GSOC's limited remit meant it was flawed from the time of its inception.

"This Minister inherited a rather flawed structure for accountability of An Garda Siochana under the 2005 Act. One of the problems is that it creates too close a relationship between the Minister for Justice and Equality of the day and An Garda Siochana."

Sunday Independent

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