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Cathal Crowe, TD Photograph by John Kelly

Corruption probe ‘tearing lives apart’

A PROBE into the conduct of eight Gardai in the Midwest is “tearing many lives apart”, Clare’s Joint Policing Committee (JPC) was told this week.
Deputy Cathal Crowe urged the Garda Commissioner, who attended the meeting on Monday (October 18), to engage more effectively on the issue.
Deputy Crowe recently raised, in the Dail, the suspension last November of eight Gardaí, as part of an investigation into alleged corruption in public office in Munster.
The investigation by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) centres on claims that Gardaí did not pursue enquiries into alleged road traffic offences against a number of individuals.
At this week’s JPC meeting, the Meelick TD repeated many of his criticisms of the handling of the investigation.
In advance of the meeting, he had tabled a question for Commissioner Drew Harris, asking if the principle of discretion is still part of the training at the Garda College in Templemore.
After the Commissioner explained that “discretion is taught right from the very first day of training”, in order to provide a “humane” policing service, Deputy Crowe outlined the reasons for his question.
“We have a population of 118,000 in Clare and some of them are in the Limerick Garda Division,” Deputy Crowe said.
“There are a lot of Limerick-based Gardai living in Clare. For last two years, eight members of the Limerick force have been on suspension with pay. Many are now unable to progress career.
“There is a shroud of suspicion of them because they face charges of corruption. Too many people are encompassed and it’s harrowing. The process needs to be sped up. They need to be found guilty or not guilty. This is tearing many lives apart.
“You as a commissioner need to engage more effectively. I have spoken to members of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and they are now fearful of [using] discretion.
“Gardai, for many years, were able to square off traffic issues. This puts the principle of discretion in jeopardy… Discretion is absolutely crucial.”
The Fianna Fail TD pointed out that he raised the same issue recently in Dail Eireann.
“The ambiguity is unfair to Gardai,” he continued. “If a county hurling star, a county manager or a mayor was pulled over, maybe their fine would be waived and that would be wrong.
“I would like to think, however, that if someone was driving at speed to the maternity hospital, that reasonable discretion would apply and the shroud of suspicion would not apply.
“Clare has just six new Gardai in 10 years, but Limerick has lost eight in two years. We have to move this on.”
Responding, Commissioner Harris said he was “somewhat constrained” in what he could say. He said there was an important difference, in policing, between discretion and preference.
“We say to all Gardai, ‘Use discretion, but not preference’. Every one of us should be treated equally before the law.”
The Commissioner said he is “personally engaged” in the matter and takes the comments on expediting the investigation very seriously.
Speaking after the meeting to members of the media, Commissioner Harris said it is vital that people have trust in the police force.
“We understand that a crime investigation is stressful for members of An Garda Siochana,” he said.
“But this work must be done. We must make sure that people can trust An Garda Siochana to be entirely trustworthy and honest in their dealings with them.
“So any of these investigations that we undertake are essential for public confidence in the organisation, but they are expedited and dealt with as quickly as possible.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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