A Force Corrupted – Or Something More Sinister?

In the wake of the first of the adult Jobstown trials reaching a NOT GUILTY verdict, Taryn De Vere examines the rotten history of Garda corruption over the last decade.

The Real Criminal by Michael Donaghy

Despite Ireland ratifying the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2005 there has been a seemingly endless series of scandals involving Gardai, especially amongst high ranking Garda. Earlier this month, Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan again faced the Public Accounts Committee over financial irregularities at the Garda College in Templemore. To give an indication of the levels of corruption and dishonesty within the force, here is a short re-cap of the scandals of the last 15 years.

2002 – The Morris Tribunal was set up to investigate allegations specifically relating to Garda corruption in County Donegal. The Tribunal found that Gards had planted evidence, lied, undertaken campaigns of harassment against citizens and were negligent in their investigations. The report also suggested more widespread corruption and dishonesty around the country.

2012-2014 – Garda whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson disclose corruption within the force, specifically relating to what has now become known as the “Penalty Points Scandal”. An independent report later found “consistent and widespread breaches” of the penalty point rules. McCabe and Wilson suffered harassment from colleagues for speaking out. Under suspicious circumstances the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan resigned, after having told PAC that the allegations of the whistleblowers were “quite disgusting”. Noirin O’Sullivan is appointed in his place.

2014 – The Guerin report is published. It is highly critical of how the Justice Minister of the time Alan Shatter had handled the whistleblower’s claims. Shatter resigned shortly after receiving the report.

2014 – Garda Phone Recordings Scandal. Violating the rights of citizens, the Gardai recorded phone calls at 22 Garda stations around Ireland. The Fennelly Commission was set up to investigate, stating that the force was “unlawfully in possession of a very large amount of recorded material”.

2014 – GSOC Phone Bugging scandal. The Cooke report is commissioned by the government to investigate claims that the offices of the GSOC, an independent organisation set up to ‘police the police’ had been bugged. Fingers were pointed towards the Gardai, especially given that the GSOC didn’t report the bugging devices they found to the Garda. The Cooke report however found no evidence to suggest that the Gardai had been involved.

2016 – A large scale internal investigation is launched at Killarney Garda Station following allegation of corruption by a whistleblower. Over 50 Gardai are interviewed.

2016 – The O’Higgins Report finds that Cavan/Monaghan Gardai had mishandled some criminal investigations, saying crime victims were not “well served” by the force.

2016 – Allegations are made against whistleblower Maurice McCabe by Senior counsel for Commissioner O’Sullivan. When McCabe produced a recording of the meeting in question in order to discount the allegations against him the senior counsel told the O’Higgins inquiry that it was an “Error on his part.”

2017 – Details emerged about an alleged multi-department smear campaign against whistleblower Maurice McCabe, including a file created by the child and family agency Tulsa containing a false child sexual assault claim against McCabe. Tulsa later apologised to McCabe saying that the file had been created “in error”. Against the wishes of the Government who wanted a commission of investigation – which would be private and not public – a public inquiry is set up to investigate claims that Maurice McCabe was subjected to a smear campaign.

2017 – The Breath Test Scandal. A million false breath tests were somehow recorded by Gardai and separately, 14,700 people were falsely convicted of motor offenses.

2017 – Women’s Aid raises concerns about the discrepancy between domestic abuse figures recorded by Police on both sides of the border. The Gardai recorded 5000 cases of domestic abuse while the PSNI recorded 29,000 suggesting widespread under-reporting of crimes against domestic abuse victims.

2017 – Templemore Financial Irregularities Scandal. Over 40 bank accounts connected to the Garda training college are discovered with, at one point over 2.3 million in cash having been held in the accounts. According to The Sunday Times large amounts of public money had been diverted to other bank accounts. The European Court of Auditors has now opened an internal investigation into the use of EU funds by the Gardai.

2017 – During the trial of the Jobstown defendants it emerges that Comissioner O’Sullivan appointed her husband to head up a unit to focus solely on targeting anti-water charges protesters, called Operation Mizen. At least 6 officers involved in Operation Mizen spent six months gathering intelligence on water protesters, with a particular focus on left leaning politicians. When asked directly if TD’s phones had been tapped, the Commissioner said she was “confident and satisfied that appropriate legislation is at all times enforced.” An evasive and unsettling answer, especially given that the Gardai have leaked confidential information about left TD’s to the press in the past.

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Despite calls from opposition parties for her removal O’Sullivan sitting tight. When questions were raised about high level Garda employees PAC testimony contradicting that of O’Sullivan’s, now Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated, “I have confidence in the Garda Commissioner…I believe she is somebody who is fighting many battles on many fronts in an effort to put things right.”

It has been alleged that O’Sullivan was directly involved in the smear campaign against McCabe. O’Sullivan’s lawyers, acting under her instruction, attempted to bring the false allegations of child sexual abuse against McCabe into the O’Higgins Inquiry. Additionally Head of the Garda Press Office, Dave Taylor said he was told to “encourage the media to write negatively” about McCabe.

Speaking under parliamentary privilege Labour leader Brendan Howlin said in February that he had been contacted by a journalist who, “told me that they have direct knowledge of calls made by the Garda Commissioner to journalists during 2013 and 2014 in the course of which the Commissioner made very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Garda Maurice McCabe.”

With over 15 years’ worth of scandals and endless inquiries costing the Irish taxpayers millions it cannot be said that O’Sullivan has done much to change the systemic rot within the Gardai. That Varadkar still believes, after three years of her leadership, that she is trying to “put things right” seems to indicate either his disinterest in creating a transparent, honest and democratic police force. Or a vested interest in propping up a corrupt and dishonest system. Time will no doubt tell which side our Taoiseach is on.

For more on the Jobstown trials, Solidarity (of whom four of the accused are members) have been reporting on every day of the trial and their reports can be found here.

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