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A few bad apples? More like rotten to the core

(Susan McKay, Irish News)

"The spirit wearies at the lies, obfuscations, concealments and conspiracies to destroy the truth that would be apparent to any reasonable person who sat through more than a few days of our hearings."

This was what Mr Justice Frederick Morris said about the Garda Siochana during his investigation into how two innocent men from Donegal were framed in 1996 for a murder which never happened.

The second Morris Tribunal Report was published last week. The first one, into how gardai, among other things, invented an IRA informer and made fake bombs, was published a year ago. Morris called then for radical reform of the gardai.

This second report is even more damning. When gardai didn't have to cooperate with him, they didn't. When they did have to, "lies replaced silence". "Astonishing" lies. The Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, astonishingly told the tribunal the investigation into the death of cattle dealer Richie Barron had been run in "an efficient and thorough manner". Morris found it was "utterly negligent".

Last week, Michael McDowell, the Republic's loudmouth minister for justice, would have been glad of the right to silence. When he was attorney general McDowell opposed the setting up of the Morris Tribunal. After the first report, he did nothing. Forced to respond to last week's shocking report, he murmured something about 'a few bad apples'. "We have the same Garda force yesterday that we have today and we will have tomorrow," he said.

This is hardly reassuring. The Garda force of yesterday was responsible 30 years ago for having six men convicted of a train robbery on the basis of statements they didn't make and of claiming that the substantial injuries they sustained in custody were self-inflicted. The activities of the 'Heavy Gang' were investigated by retired judge, Barra O'Briain. None of his recommendations have been implemented.

The gardai got Joanne Hayes and her family to confess in 1984 that she was the mother of a murdered baby washed up on a Kerry beach. Hayes had given birth, in shame and secrecy, to another baby, which had died. When it emerged that she and her partner could not have been the parents of the murdered baby, efforts were made to persuade the Kerry Babies Tribunal that the young woman had been pregnant with twins to two different men.

Mr Justice Lynch's criticisms of the gardai were ignored.

In 1997, gardai got Dean Lyons, a homeless young Dublin heroin addict, to confess to the horrific murders of two women. Another man subsequently admitted the murders. This man, who had since been convicted of other similarly psychopathic murders, provided definitive evidence of his guilt. Dean Lyons has since died.

An investigation has been launched into how his statement was obtained.

There are many more examples. Gardai lied in court about intelligence relating to the Real IRA's 1998 Omagh bomb. Gardai shot dead the disturbed young John Carthy in Longford in 2000 in disputed circumstances. Gardai botched the rescue of six-year-old Deirdre Crowley in Tipperary in 2001. She was shot dead by her father, who had kidnapped her and who also killed himself. Gardai laid into the Reclaim the Streets demonstration in Dublin in 2002 with a zeal worthy of the RUC in 1969.

Two weeks ago, gardai shot dead two members of a criminal gang when they arrived to rob a post office in Co Dublin. One of the men was armed, the other was not. An internal Garda investigation has been launched into these events.

In the north, such incidents have been regarded as evidence of a 'shoot to kill' policy by the security forces. In the north, reforms demanded by the Patten Commission led to the disbandment of the RUC and the establishment of the PSNI. Crucially, it also led to the setting up of the independent Police Ombudsman's office, under the control of the formidable Nuala O'Loan, and of the Policing Board.

Unionists still refuse to accept that there was anything wrong with the RUC. McDowell has the same obdurate arrogance in the face of overwhelming evidence. The gardai still has essentially the same structure as the Irish Constabulary in the 1820's.

The Free State's minister for justice in 1923 rejected the idea of a police authority. Kevin O'Higgins said he would not have the gardai answerable to "the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker".

Eighty two years on, his successor in the Republic is still refusing to yield control and allow fully independent bodies to scrutinise the gardai.

The gardai has utterly disgraced itself.

So has Michael McDowell.

June 8, 2005

This article appeared first in the June 7, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

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