2 October 1997 Edition
Garda brutality inquiry call
Two human rights bodies have called on the Dublin government to set up an impartial inquiry into allegations of widespread garda brutality in Limerick.
In a report published this week, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and British Irish Rights Watch outline their investigations into allegations of ill treatment by gardaí of people arrested in the weeks and months following the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare in June 1996. Only a small number of those arrested were charged and they appeared in court with clearly visible injuries. Of two men who appeared in the non-jury Special Court, one had to be taken immediately to hospital and the other had been taken to hospital four times during his 48 hours detention. There is evidence of systematic brutality of suspects.
In an echo of the garda ``heavy gang'' of the 1970s, Special Branch detectives allegedly boasted that ``the gloves were off'' and that they had political clearance to beat suspects.
The allegations fit into a pattern of garda brutality and harassment of republicans in Limerick going back many years. Sinn Féin members are constantly harassed, arrested and charged with petty offences in a campaign of political censorship which predates the killing of Garda McCabe.
The inquiry call should be supported by all democrats who value freedom from the brutality of a political police force.
Exposed: Garda brutality in Limerick
Human rights groups call for tribunal
into allegations of Garda brutality
Proinsias O Maolchalain investigates the history of garda harassment and brutality against republicans in Limerick
Johnny Walker of the Birmingham Six credits Limerick with a dubious claim to fame: ``It is the only county in Ireland that I seem to get stopped in,'' he said.
On Tuesday the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and British Irish Rights Watch launched a report into allegations of ill-treatment by the Garda Síochána of people arrested following the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe in Limerick in June 1996. At the time independent TD Tony Gregory attempted to raise the beatings in the Leinster House security committee, but was ruled out of order by the Fine Gael chairperson, Charlie Flanagan TD. In October 1996 Amnesty International expressed concern about the allegations of ill-treatment in Limerick and called for a full and independent inquiry into the allegations with the findings made public.
The report, which has been sent to the UN, covers only those arrested and on whom no charges were made as they feel that allegations of brutality of those actually charged should be determined by the courts.
The report does however recall that when one prisoner was remanded to Portlaoise prison, ``officers there were so concerned that he was immediately sent to the local hospital.'' They also point out that a second man had to be taken to hospital four times during the 48 hours he was detained.
Emphasising their awarenesss of the ``widespread sense of outrage and shock over the brutal murder of Garda McCabe and the wounding of his colleague,'' they emphasised that it was at such times of high emotion that the rules and safeguards for the protection of suspects should be observed.
According to the report, ``when one woman was seen by her doctor on release, the doctor noted around 20 bruises on her arms and back.'' Some of those arrested claimed that threats were made to put them or their relatives out of business or even to have them shot. Some also claimed that threats were made that they (the detainees, female and male) or their partners or children would be raped.
``Much of the alleged verbal abuse,'' stated the report, ``was said to have been sexual in content and designed to humiliate and degrade''. One woman claimed she was called a ``Provo sow'' and that her interrogators engaged in racist abuse and threatened to have her children taken away from her.
The human rights groups were particularly disturbed by allegations made by a number of persons that ``they (the Gardaí) had been given the go-ahead to get tough by the then Government and they had been told `the gloves were off' as far as the case was concerned.'' Some of the interrogators allegedly contrasted the supposed tough line authorised by the Government led by Taoiseach John Bruton with the policies of its predecessors led by Albert Reynolds and Charles Haughey. It was was also alleged that some of the interrogators referred to the Special Criminal Court as `our court' and claimed that it did whatever they (the Gardaí) wanted.
However Garda brutality and the torture of detainees in Limerick covered in the report is only the tip of the iceberg. Nor can the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe be blamed for all the Garda actions. They have imposed a blitz of harassment against anyone even associating with republicans in the area since the early nineties. Republicans are targeted every day and members of Sinn Féin - a legal political party - are constantly stopped and harassed in what is a clear attempt by the forces of the state to restrict the activities of the party.
But it is not all simple harassment. Next to physical violence and false imprisonment, the worst thing you can do to a person is to cause them to lose their job, and Special Branch detectives have not been negligent in this field. In 1996 Martin Wallace was arrested at the Verbatim factory where he worked. No charges were brought, but when Wallace returned to Verbatim the following day, his desk had been cleared and he was told by his manager that there was no longer a position for him. Because he had been on a short term contract, he was powerless to sue the factory. He has since been forced to emigrate to Australia to earn a living.
Former POW Kieran O'Dwyer was removed from the bonded warehouse where he was working when his employer was contacted by the Special Branch. Ironically O'Dwyer had been released by the Dublin government in December 1994 as a gesture of goodwill during the first IRA cessation.
Richard Shapland was fired by the then BP (now Statoil) following Garda intervention. It took him six years to get a new position, and he is still subject to constant surveillance outside the garage where, along with his wife Jenny, he now works. The couple told An Phoblacht that customers of the garage are sometimes abused by the Gardaí. On one occasion members of the Special Branch followed the Shaplands from their house and then proceeded to search them in public outside their place of work. Detectives have also attempted - unsuccessfully - to discover breaches of the off-license regulations at the garage shop.
The Shaplands' 15 year old son, Karl, is repeatedly stopped and harassed by uniformed Gardaí when walking in public with his friends. Complaints by the Shaplands have been described as ``vexatious'' by the Garda Complaints Board.
Self employed republicans have not been immune from Garda harassment either. Several have had their customers threatened with arrest if they get republicans to do work for them again. Running a business in such circumstances is virtually impossible. Those arrested have often been warned not to contact republicans afterwards.
As part of the Garda blitz four stewards at the annual Clancy/O'Callaghan commemoration, including independent Alderman John Gilligan, have been charged under the controversial Public Order Act. Richard Shapland was charged with ``willfully obstructing traffic,'' at Mulgrave Street on 10 March, 1996, contrary to Section 9 of the Public Order Act, while Alderman Gilligan was charged with ``disorderly conduct and abusive behaviour,'' contrary to the Act. Kieran O'Dwyer and John Costelloe were also charged with disorderly conduct, abusive behaviour and willful obstruction of traffic. The four are still awaiting the decision by Judge William Hammill.
Alderman Gilligan told An Phoblacht that he had been singled out because he had attended a parade to commemorate two former Lord Mayors of Limerick (Clancy and O'Callaghan) who had been murdered by the Black and Tans. ``At no stage did the incidents described by the Gardaí take place. I saw three people who looked like the Special Branch talking to kids of seven and 12 years of age. One was the son of a constituent. I questioned whether the Gardaí had shown ID, and told them that the children were underage. `You're very fucking clever' was their response. This is a tiny incident, one of thousands that have taken place in Limerick. Nobody believes that we are guilty of the charges.''
Perhaps even more worrying from a human rights point of view is the case of Paul Quinn, who was convicted of failing to give an account of his movements. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment, although he is currently out on bail while he appeals the conviction.
Quinn was in England when Garda Jerry McCabe was killed, and he told this to Gardaí when questioned by them last year. They demanded a more detailed account of his movements (in England) and when, on the advice of his solicitor, he refused he was charged and later convicted with failing to give an account of his movements. Were the conviction to be allowed to stand it would mark a serious erosion of the right to silence in this country.
Protestors outside the court who attempted to highlight this erosion of civil liberties were threatened with arrest by Gardaí for ``attempting to influence the judge''.
A young American woman Eila Moloney was also arrested and interrogated about the killing of McCabe. She had been in the United States at the time, as the Gardaí were more than aware. American Embassy officials have confirmed that she has lodged a complaint with them following her ordeal.
Gardaí in Limerick have been particularly keen to intimidate anyone from outside the city who may attempt to aid republicans in the city or highlight the abuses they have suffered.
According to the ICCL report ``when British Irish Watch member and barrister Mary McKeone went to Limerick in November 1996 to re-interview some of the persons who had made statements to the ICCL, she was confronted and threatened with arrest by a detective officer apparently because she was interviewing the people concerned - who had been charged with no offence. Attempts were made to compel her to hand over a dossier of statements which had been made in confidence by complainants. This was persisted in even after her identity and mission had been confirmed by the ICCL as well as the nature of the statements in question. Eventually she was allowed to continue her work, but only after complaints had been made to the Minster for Justice and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).''
Cork republicans who attended the Seán South Commemoration in the city were also the subject of harassment by Gardaí, while the Special Branch monitored the meeting between this reporter and members of Limerick Sinn Féin, organised to facilitate this article.
Among the litany of petty actions the Branch have also engaged in has been the prosecution of routine motoring offences against republicans. In one case they sifted through over 15 years of insurance files in order to gain a conviction and they prosecuted the Shaplands for having no tax on a newly purchased car before they had could even get near a tax office.
In an effort to isolate republicans from the community one Detective Garda approached two public houses in Kildimo in an attempt to get them to bar republicans. While one bowed to the pressure on at least one occasion, the other public house, much to the publican's credit, refused.
One Limerick man, Johnny O'Dea, was given a suspended sentence but was forced to stay away from republicans for ten years. No definition of republican was offered, but at face value O'Dea's constitutional right to join a political party would appear to ahve been breached.
Commenting on the reports of harassment, the Lord Mayor of Limerick Frank Leden told An Phoblacht that there had been no harassment on the part of ``the citizens of Limerick,'' and any harassment was the responsibility of the Department of Justice.
Perhaps the action that best displays the attitude of the Special Branch in Limerick is the detention of Johnny Walker of the Birmingham Six. Walker credits Limerick with a dubious claim to fame. ``It is the only county in Ireland that I seem to get stopped in,'' he told An Phoblacht. Following his release after 17 years of wrongful captivity, Walker and other members of the Birmingham Six toured Ireland to thank all those who had campaigned on their behalf. On two occasions Walker was stopped while travelling through Limerick and held at the side of the road. ``On the second occasion the Branchman leaned into the car and said, `What's your name, Mr Walker?' I haven't been stopped anywhere else but Limerick,'' Walker said.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has called for a public inquiry into the brutality allegations. They said: ``The barrister's report raised disturbing issues and as a result we submitted it to the Government towards the end of July last. We took the precaution of also sending it to international human rights bodies in the hope that they too would encourage the Government to hold an inquiry. Two months later there has been no substantive response from the Government.
``A new tribunal is about to be established into the payments to politicians. We agree that this is an important issue but also is the integrity of our police force and the safety of persons being questioned about serious offences. We repeat our call for an independent inquiry into the allegations.''