29 January 2004 Edition
Ombudsman Commission not good enough - Ó Snodaigh
Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh used the first proper day of the new Dáil session to again call for the introduction of a "fully independent Garda Ombudsman" to re-establish public confidence in the Gardaí. He said that the Minister for Justice's proposed "Ombudsman Commission" still falls short of what is required for full police accountability and to "make the culture of impunity a thing of the past."
Raising the issue as a matter of urgent public importance during Order of Business, Ó Snodaigh said: "In light of historic and recent patterns of Garda misconduct and abuse and the demonstrated failure of the present internal complaints investigation mechanisms, including the Garda Complaints Board, we need to introduce as a matter of urgency a fully independent Garda Ombudsman in this state."
Speaking afterwards, Ó Snodaigh said that "only a fully independent Ombudsman with retrospective powers of investigation and whose remit is distinct from that of an independent civilian oversight body and local community accountability mechanisms — both of which are also needed to establish a fully transparent and accountable police force in this jurisdiction —can make the culture of impunity a thing of the past. But the Minister's proposed 'Ombudsman Commission' still falls far short of these requirements.
"In addition to the more recent cases of excessive use of force that have been graphically highlighted by Prime Time, Magill Magazine and elsewhere, there are numerous older high profile cases not covered by the two existing tribunals into excessive use of Garda force and Garda misconduct that still need to be investigated independently.
"Such cases include the revelation that files relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings have disappeared, the murder of Sinn Féin Councillor Eddie Fullerton in Donegal and the operation of the Heavy Gang.
"In all of these cases the Gardaí and the existing complaints mechanisms have been shown to be completely incapable of addressing or satisfying the concerns of the wider public, and this has steadily eroded public confidence over time. But the Minister's proposals still do not allow for retrospective investigation. This is wrong. A fully independent Ombudsman with the proper powers is the only means of restoring public confidence.
"Sinn Féin is not alone in this belief. A consensus is forming on this issue. It is high time that the Minister drop the pretence that the Ombudsman v Inspectorate issue is merely a matter of semantics - it is not. It is about powers of investigation and full independence and he knows it. The Minister's alleged compromise of an 'Ombudsman Commission' is just not good enough. I challenge him to take advantage of the growing consensus on this issue to introduce a Garda reform Bill that will command not only cross-party support, but the broad support of the Irish people."