Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Police Scandals to be investigated


The Government finally published the terms of reference for its inquiry into recent police scandals after a series of failed attempts to limit the political damage to both government parties which has resulted. The terms were decided at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.

The inquiry by Supreme Court Judge Nial Fennelly will include a specific investigation into the taping of conversations surrounding the death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, and to determine whether Gardaí acted unlawfully or inappropriately in investigating her murder which occurred in 1996.

The inquiry will also include an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the resignation of the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan two weeks ago.

It will also investigate the handling of Mr. Callinan's letter to the Department of Justice on the subject of the Garda tapes, which was not supplied to the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, for over a fortnight.

The main issues to be investigated are:

The operation of telephone recording systems, to record calls other than 999 calls to the Emergency Call Answering Service, at a large number of Garda Stations over many years,

The specific implications of the taping related to the Garda investigation into the death of Ms Sophie Toscan Du Plantier in County Cork in December 1996, and related matters,

How these matters were dealt with by the responsible authorities,

The sequence of events leading up to the retirement of the former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan,  in March 2014.

The current controversy emanated from a report of the police Ombudsman's office that a bugging attempt of the office was suspected:

( see here:

Denials by Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, a deeply unpopular figure in the Government, were pounced on by the Opposition who via Parliamentary Committees interrogated the then Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, on another scandal of cancelling traffic offences fines on a widespread basis throughout the country apparently as "favours" for leading figures caught in speed traps etc., and during the hearing the Commissioner rubbished the revelations of two police whistleblowers, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, and retired officer John Wilson with the following statement:

Callinan’s statement drew fire from all sides including within the government parties
from Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney both contenders for Kenny's job whenever he decides to retire, and Shatter’s miserable attempt to justify it, caused more embarrassment for the Government. Eventually, the Opposition forced Shatter to apologise in public in parliament:

In the middle of the furore over Commissioner Callinan’s “disgusting” remarks, An Taoiseach, (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, came into the Dáil last Monday week with the startling announcement of the illicit recording of conversations at Garda Stations throughout the country which he claimed to have only been told about the previous evening by the Attorney General, Maire Whelan, who had insisted on a personal meeting refusing to discuss the matter by telephone, which has its own implications. He also announced the resignation of Commissioner Callinan and his interim replacement by Deputy Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Shatter's apology, which had to be dragged out of the reluctant Minister's gullet, gained no political kudos for the Government as last Sunday's newspaper political polls showed sharp drops in ratings for both Government parties only weeks from local government and European Parliament elections on May 23.

Mr Shatter is now under immense pressure on two fronts – his backing of Mr Callinan during the recent controversies and his level of knowledge of the recordings. Opposition questions are now focussing on why discovery of the secret recordings was only being made public now.

The phone taping scandal is the fifth major controversy to rock the Gardai in recent months after the continuing fallout from the penalty points affair, findings of collusion with the IRA by the Smithwick Tribunal, allegations the Garda Ombudsman’s  office was bugged and further allegations of mismanagement of investigations.

The affair came to light as a result of legal proceedings in a case related to the murder of French film-maker Sophie Toscan du Plantier in 1996. The French-born artist living near the small town of Bandon, Co. Cork. An English journalist, Ian Bailey, also a resident there, was arrested on suspicion of the murder by local Gardaí but the case fell apart after revelations that the Gardaí at Bandon had blackmailed a local woman and bribed another individual to make false statements about Mr Bailey’s movements on the night of the murder. A French attempt to extradite Mr Bailey to France based on the Irish police false evidence failed in Irish courts but, warrants for Mr Bailey’s arrest continue to be pursued in France. The existence of the tapes is believed to have been discovered as part of a civil case taken by Ian Bailey for alleged wrongful arrest and defamation by several newspapers. A report on the first "investigation" by Bandon Gardai by then Director of Public Prosecutions, Eamonn Barnes, was scathing in its denunciation of Garda misconduct and declined to prosecute any case against Mr Bailey. 

In a perverse move, the Irish Government passed on the fake "evidence" to the French authorities who instigated their own investigation apparently as a result of pressure from Ms du Plantier's relatives who reportedly had strong political influence in Paris. The civil case by Mr Bailey against the State is now due for full hearing in June next and is expected to invoke extraordinary interest here and internationally as a result of the Tapes scandal.This case will rock the Government here as Mr Bailey's lawyers have secured a High Court order against the State for handing over 16,000 documents relating to the case including the DPP report which has been consistently denied them since 2001.

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