Tuesday 10 December 2019

Only a fresh start can tackle age-old problem with our justice system

A garda on duty at the Morris Tribunal in Donegal town. Photo: Declan Doherty.
A garda on duty at the Morris Tribunal in Donegal town. Photo: Declan Doherty.

Frank McBrearty

It has been over 17 years since I was first arrested for a murder that never happened, and since that time only three things have changed – the government, the justice minister and the garda commissioner.

The words that come to mind are 'Groundhog Day'. Justice is not a privilege but a basic and fundamental human right. Our Constitution is there to protect us as Irish citizens, but is it really protecting us? That is the question that needs to be addressed. Natural justice is the term we hear; does the Irish State really understand the word? It has been my experience over these last 17 years that anyone who challenges the justice system is clearly seen as a threat. The current justice system is clearly broken and this is evident from the multitude of scandals which have been exposed dating back to the 1970s.

After the conclusion of the Morris Tribunal in 2008 we were promised radical reforms; reforms which have not been implemented to date. In Judge Morris's reports he uses words such as "systemic", "culture", and "not isolated to Donegal". If you read all these reports, then and only then will you, the public, fully understand that there is something rotten within our justice system.

The root of the problem, in my opinion, is our broken political system – accountability is not there.

We must fight to ensure that radical reforms are implemented, which will ensure that the scales of justice are once again evenly balanced, and that all rights of Irish people are protected under a new and modern justice system. At present, the political will is not there, in my opinion, to bring about the radical reforms that are needed.

Where do we start? Firstly, we establish an independent-led commission of inquiry, with proper powers to make findings of fact. This body, and its powers, must have total independence from government interference. What does this inquiry need to do, you may ask? It needs to act on the failures of the Department of Justice as well as successive Irish governments to deal with the many scandals which have taken place from the 1970s to the present date.

This commission needs to firstly look at policing in the past and the many unresolved issues that have not been dealt with. Policing in the present, too, needs to be addressed, as well as the current scandals which are ongoing – the GSOC scandal, the Boylan allegations, the Omagh bombing, the allegations from the whistleblowers, and the Ian Bailey case, which leads you back to Donegal, where no lessons have been learnt.

The most important aspect of this commission, however, would be to look at policing into the future. In doing so, the commission could then make the necessary recommendations to ensure that the rights of Irish citizens are protected.

When the Morris Tribunal was established on March 28, 2002, we all thought that this would get to the bottom of the systemic problems we have in our justice system. There are so many unanswered questions that the Morris Tribunal was unable to deal with due to its limited terms of reference.

In my opinion, the most important aspect which was excluded from the tribunal was the political relationship that exists with An Garda Siochana at senior garda management level. This relationship with senior garda management still exists today, and if we are to deal with the root of these problems we must learn from the past.

The Patton Commission in Northern Ireland is the blueprint of what needs to happen here. Time will tell whether the political will or understanding is there to ensure that the reforms needed will happen, which is inevitable in my opinion. Can the current politicians in the Dail solve the problems? I doubt it. Ruairi Quinn and Pat Rabbitte were leaders of the Labour Party during the Donegal scandal. Micheal Martin and Willie O'Dea were government ministers at the time also. Eamon Gilmore, Joan Burton, Enda Kenny and Alan Shatter were all in opposition and there are many TDs in the Dail today that represented all political parties at the time. How can these politicians give us the reforms we are entitled to? They shout from the rooftops when in opposition and yet go silent when in power.

We must implement justice reforms from best international practice. The example of what has happened in Northern Ireland/UK can help us establish a Police/Garda Authority. We also need policing boards in every garda district with the same powers as in the North and GSOC must be given the powers it needs to enable it to be totally independent also. This will lead to the accountability we are entitled to and this is what I have fought for since I was wrongly accused of a crime that didn't even happen.

Justice delayed is Justice denied.

FRANK MCBREARTY IS A DONEGAL COUNCILLOR.

Irish Independent

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