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15 January 2004 Edition

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Black week for the Gardaí

BY JOANNE CORCORAN

Amnesty Director Seán Love

Amnesty Director Seán Love

Amnesty Director Seán Love made waves this week by calling for the Patten policing reforms to be adopted not only in Ireland, but also throughout the rest of the EU. His comments came just days after RTÉ aired a Primetime Special on the Gardaí, which stunned the Irish public by revealing misuse of power in the force and an intolerable culture of cover-up.

The Amnesty Director's suggestions were made on Monday, when Amnesty International launched "Human Rights Begins at Home", a campaign that they hope the Dublin Government will spearhead while it holds the EU presidency.

According to Amnesty, 13 out of the 15 current EU states, including this one, are still human rights offenders. Part of the reason the 26 Counties has been included is the lack of progress the state has made in policing reform.

The Primetime programme highlighted a number of shocking incidents involving assaults, misuse of warrants, intimidation and wrongful arrest. The programme also disclosed the lack of accountability within the service, showing that few if any guards are ever punished for abusing their positions of power.

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh said this week that the Primetime programme vindicated his party's call for a Garda Ombudsman and for fundamental reform of the service, and said that "while the revelations may be shocking for many people, they are but the tip of the iceberg". He said the practices outlined in the programme were common and have led to a situation where many members of the public now have little or no faith in the force.

He also welcomed Amnesty's recognition of Patten as an applicable positive model, saying that it too added weight to Sinn Féin proposals.

"The RTÉ programme exposed the complete nonsense that is the notion of the Gardaí investigating themselves when issues of wrongdoing arise," said Ó Snodaigh. "The programme showed that the mechanisms in place at the moment are not only ineffective but actually mitigate against proper investigations being conducted and satisfactory conclusions based on justice being reached."

The Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights added that the programme, and subsequent interviews, also revealed a disturbing insight into the thinking of senior management within the Gardaí.

"That they couldn't accept the criticisms being levelled at them and couldn't understand the concerns of the wider community shows they are far too removed from the reality of everyday life for ordinary people."

Speaking about the programme, Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris said that there were cases in his constituency of Kerry where the actions of some Gardaí could be called into question.

"One event that I have been trying to get an answer on from Minister Michael McDowell is the case where the Garda Special Branch in Kerry was alleged to have found a hand gun in the boot of a well known Kerry republican's car," Ferris said. "Yet remarkably, no charges were ever brought against him. Later, when the then accused asked for evidence of the so-called gun, he was told that it had been destroyed. Why would they destroy this piece of evidence or is it that it just never existed?

"Another is the more recent case of Castlemaine republican Johnny O'Shea, who was found dead outside his home, having previously been held in Garda custody. No explanation has been made for the marks that were found on Johnny's body. No reason has been given as to why a number of people who had talked to Johnny after his arrest hadn't been called to give evidence when the matter went to court."

Three-pronged approach

The Primetime programme marked a watershed for RTÉ, which has consistently refused to deal with problems associated with policing in this country. Sinn Féin and An Phoblacht have highlighted the need for reform for years, and as recently as last November the party issued its proposals for change within the Gardaí. These proposals were re-issued in light of the programme.

They call for the establishment of a fully independent Garda Ombudsman, fully independent civilian Policing Board, and district-level Community Policing Partnerships based on the Patten model. While several groups in the South have called for an Ombudsman to be set up, Sinn Féin is the only group so far to emphasise the need for Community Policing Partnerships. The party says only a three-pronged approach can effectively deal with the problems within the Gardaí.

"Human rights is not just an empty slogan," said Ó Snodaigh. "I particularly welcome Amnesty Director Seán Love's suggestion that the Patten Policing Reforms should be adopted not only here in Ireland, but throughout the EU.

"It is not good enough for the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell to engage in a game of verbal semantics over the title of a new police inspectorate or ombudsman. The name of the body is not the issue. It needs to have real and meaningful powers if confidence is to be restored in the administration of justice in this State. The days of the police investigating themselves on any issue are over."

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