9 June 2005 Edition
The barrel is rotten BY JUSTIN MORAN & SEAN BRADY
Gardaí involved in extortion. Gardaí framing people for crimes they did not commit. Gardaí threatening people. Gardaí falsifying records and forging official documents. Gardaí harassing and intimidating innocent citizens. Gardaí lying to the courts and to their superiors. Incompetent Gardaí. Lazy Gardaí. Corrupt Gardaí. Dishonest Gardaí.
'Unbelievable incompetence on the part of senior officers'... 'four Gardaí told multiple lies to the Tribunal'... 'the spirit wearies at the lies, obfuscations, concealments and conspiracies to destroy the truth'. The Garda investigation was 'corrupt in its leadership... prejudiced, tendentious and utterly negligent'... 'a cluster of corrupt Gardaí'... 'unbelievable corruption, sloth and lack of objectivity'.
The only surprise in the aftermath of the second report from the Morris Tribunal is that anyone is really surprised at all. More than one republican has sat in the dock in an Irish courtroom and listened to a member of the Garda Special Branch lie to the court. Many republicans have at one time or another been harassed or intimidated by the Gardaí.
As Martin Ferris TD pointed out in Leinster House last week, none of what the Morris Report contained should come as news. "While a prisoner in Portlaoise Prison in the 1970s, I witnessed at first hand Nicky Kelly, a colleague of Deputy Rabbitte, being helped up the stairs after being brutally assaulted and beaten by members of the Special Branch", Ferris pointed out.
"Not one member of this heavy gang was held accountable for their brutal actions. The Morris findings also call into question the sacrosanct evidence accepted by the Special Criminal Court, where the word of a Special Branch man as against a defendant is taken as absolute, even to the extent that verbal admission, regardless of how it is extracted, is accepted as evidence to secure convictions."
But what now? The Morris Tribunal's first report was issued in July of last year and was never even debated in Leinster House. Almost a year later and not a single, solitary one of its recommendations have been implemented. Indeed, Justice Morris felt it necessary to repeat all of his recommendations from the first report in his most recent publication to remind the government of what was needed.
Perhaps this has something to do with the process of implementation of those recommendations, for it is the wisdom of Michael McDowell that the people responsible for implementing them should be the Gardaí themselves, and Commissioner Conroy, who should, as Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh points out, not escape this time. "There are also big question marks over Commissioner Conroy, who as recently as three weeks ago stated publicly that his view was that the original Garda inquiry into the matter was 'thorough and efficient'."
The implementation of recommendations from such reports has a poor track record as homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry wrote last November: "It may be recalled that a Fianna Fáil government appointed the late Judge Barra Ó Briain to investigate the activities of the 'Heavy Gang' in the mid-1970s. He produced a report with detailed recommendations, ranging from the appointment of a 'custodial guardian' in each Garda Station to the provision of audio tape-recording facilities for use during questioning. Thirty years and a succession of different governments later, not a single one of his recommendations has been implemented, apart from the very recent installation of video-recorders in some Garda stations."
But what of Minister Michael McDowell, who took the Justice portfolio with a pledge to bring about the most widespread reform of the Gardaí since the foundation of the State? His track record on Garda accountability leaves something to be desired. As Attorney General, he opposed a public inquiry into McBrearty case in 1997. He has blocked a public inquiry into a similar case, the James Sheehan case in Kerry involving allegations of Gardaí planting a firearm and destroying evidence in an attempt to damage the credibility of an election candidate.
He has also said he will not publish the findings of the re-investigation into the assassination of Donegal Councillor Eddie Fullerton, despite the strong evidence of British collusion and mishandling of the original investigation by the same Gardaí under investigation by the Morris Tribunal.
The usual suspects in the Irish media and political elite have been tripping over themselves to sell the outrageous events in Donegal as the work of the clichéd 'few bad apples'. Yet in November 2002, Fr McVerry reported that young homeless persons are routinely assaulted in four Dublin Garda barracks and have given up reporting the attacks for fear of further brutality.
In January of last year, RTÉ's Prime Time exposed a shocking series of incidents involving assaults, misuse of warrants, intimidation and wrongful arrest by Gardaí throughout the country. 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.
Last August, five uniformed Gardaí from Lifford attacked a Sinn Féin billboard with sledgehammers, despite no complaints about the billboard having been made or received by Donegal County Council. The destruction of the Free the Castlerea Five billboard was described as "an unprovoked and politically motivated act" by local Sinn Féin Councillor Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Last December, two Dublin republicans were convicted of IRA membership on the word of a Garda Special Branch officer and their use of their right to silence. Just a few months ago, two detective Gardaí were charged with perjury relating to their testimony to the notorious, non-jury Special Criminal Court in the Colm Murphy case.
The death of Johnny O'Shea in Kerry remains marked by unanswered questions. Garda files from the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings remain missing. Brutality in their assaults on Reclaim the Streets protestors were later marked by a conspiracy of silence to protect the guilty. Garda officers get kickbacks from tyre contractors and judges go on national television to tell the people that they routinely assume Garda confessions to be regularly falsified and nothing changes.
It is not a case of a few bad apples. The entire orchard is a breeding ground for arrogant, corrupt behaviour by uniformed and plain-clothes thugs.
The second report of the Morris Tribunal has at long last shone a spotlight on the 26-County police force and finally brought into the light of day what many citizens have known only too well for many decades but few had the courage to say publicly. The Garda Síochána has been an extremely powerful institution within the Southern state for over eight decades. Like other powerful Irish institutions, such as the state itself, the business class and the Catholic Church, it wielded power over the lives of citizens in an unequal and abusive manner. In recent years, corrupt politicians, Church institutions and personnel who abused children, and corrupt businessmen have in turn been exposed by the media and in many cases brought to book. However, the Garda Síochána has been the one institution that most politicians and journalists refused to challenge. The reason, pure and simple, is fear.
Although the militarisation of society and the corruption of policing, the judiciary and all aspects of public life in the Six Counties, as a result of British occupation, has been obvious for decades, what has not been so obvious is the extent to which the situation in the North has adversely affected public life in the 26 Counties.
From the early 1970s, many areas of public life in the 26 Counties — broadcasting legislation, the courts, and the Garda — were gradually subsumed into supporting British counter-insurgency efforts in the Six Counties.
Everyone knows about the results of direct action by British forces, felt for example in the Dublin/Monaghan bombings of 1974. Many may be aware that British Intelligence infiltration of the Garda was dramatically exposed by the arrests of John Wyman and Patrick Crinnion, but the real scandal has been the more general shaping of the Garda into a force no longer designed to serve Irish citizens but to be used as a political tool.
Political harassment of republicans, surveillance of political radicals, the abuse of detainess in Garda custody and the establishment of special garda squads such as the Heavy Gang have been a feature of policing in the southern state since the early 1970s, which only a tiny minority of journalists have been prepared to question and expose. Juryless courts and rabidly anti-republican Ministers for Justice gave the green light for such abuse and malpractice. The overall effect has been extremely corrosive.
The second Morris report has exploded the myth of a few rotten apples within an otherwise benign Garda force. It demonstrates also that Garda ineptitude, arrogance, lying and corruption is in no way geographically confined to the Donegal area. On the contrary, Morris underlines the inescapable fact that Garda management allowed the type of outrageous activity exposed to go on as a matter of course. Morris has displayed for all to see the internal culture of the Garda, which operated in this state for decades.
Recent comments by Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy, defending those Gardaí involved in the investigation into the death of Richie Barron and their subsequent efforts to frame Frank McBrearty and Mark McConnell, further illustrates this utterly rotten operational culture.
It is long past the time for the establishment of the fully independent complaints procedure under a single Garda Ombudsman. Indeed, the Good Friday Agreement commitment to equivalence in human rights protections North and South requires the establishment of a Garda Ombudsman.
From the beginning, the Morris Tribunal has raised very serious questions in relation to the 1991 assassination of Eddie Fullerton, shot at his home by a loyalist death squad. A senior Garda officer, under investigation by the Tribunal, was centrally involved in the totally inadequate Garda investigation into Eddie's death.
The Tribunal has proved the urgent need for an full independent and public inquiry, that can uncover the truth not only behind the Fullerton murder, but also examine the role the Garda played in the cover up that followed. Eddie's family have been waiting 13 years for justice. In light of the Morris Tribunal's revelations, the government cannot put off that justice any longer. Eddie's family want to know:
• Why there has been no real investigation into his death
• Why after all these years the Gardaí have never called to see Eddie's wife to provide an update on how the investigation was progressing
• Why key witnesses were never interviewed
• Why crucial leads were never followed up
• Why Garda removed material from the crime scene belonging to the victim, instead of concentrating on obvious forensic evidence left by the killers
• More recently, why suggestions of MI5 and FRU collusion have not been addressed.
Next week, the Fullertons will travel to Dublin to again highlight their demand for justice. Next week also, the government will seek to renew the Offences Against the State Amendment Act 1998, another example of extra powers for the Gardaí without the necessary provisions to respect human rights.