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PJ Browne: It's a serious abuse of power to investigate the Herald

A serious dose of reality is needed in the Trevor Sargent saga.

A detective superintendent wrote to this newspaper this week wanting to interview many of the journalists.

Can I ask what crime have they committed? Or is this a witch hunt on foot of revelations about Trevor Sargent's unlawful letter to a garda investigating a crime?

What public service is being served by this investigation? Is it designed, as it appears, to protect the political system by using garda resources? If so, this is, in my opinion, a most serious abuse of power.

There are so many other pressing events that urgently need garda manpower. Eight gun killings have been committed this year, including two in the days before the Herald broke the Sargant story.

Add to that the rapes, tiger kidnappings, serious assaults, attacks on the elderly, all under investigation, all more deserving of political and garda attention than a probe into the free press. I would wager that the vast majority would agree.

There's also the use of Irish passports by an Israeli team of assassins. But, no, Dermot Ahern has not sent a team of gardai to Tel Aviv to arrest the perpetrators there -- who, apart from murdering a man, tarnished Ireland's reputation abroad.

As a former senior officer, I can assure you that letters arrive on the desk of superintendents from politicians most days of the week, asking for updates on various issues in their locality, and they are answered.

The answer will outline what policing structures have been put in place so that the politician can go back to his clinic or local party gathering and say: look what I have done for this community.

In truth, he has done nothing for the community, as it's clearly the local district officer that has put the structures in place. The point is that this communication goes on.

When I read the Herald story I was not taken aback by the junior minister writing a letter to the garda as such, but I was shocked by his writing to the investigating garda. Not only that, but I was bamboozled by the wording and the tone of the letter. Who is Trevor Sargent to tell a garda that it would be "wholly inappropriate" to proceed with a prosecution? That is an area solely reserved for the Director of Public Prosecutions not a Cabinet minister, junior minister or TD.

On the day he threw in the towel, realising he had done wrong, Sargent did not disclose that he also sent a letter to the local superintendent. That was left to the Herald to do.

Was the reason for that letter to say: I'm not happy that this has not been looked after or why did it go this far? Was there any other type of communication to gardai from Sargent, that he forgot about?

Why is the intimidation of a junior garda by a then junior minister not being investigated? Surely this is a matter which should be of concern to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation? I have no political allegiances and never have had, so I say to you politicians: stick to the job that you were elected to do and allow the gardai to continue their work.

And, of course, let the Director of Public Prosecutions decide what prosecution is warranted.

To Mr Fachtna Murphy, Garda Commissioner, I say: call off the hounds and concentrate on the needs of people of Ireland.

There are murders, rapes, assaults and instances of gross banking malpractice outstanding in your files, Mr Murphy.

You should spend the finances that you have on the real issues.

Quite simply, this matter beggars belief.

PJ Browne is a retired detective superintendent with over 35 years experience policing serious crime