JUDGE PETER CHARLETON has sharply criticised certain elements of An Garda Síochána in his report into the Disclosures Tribunal.
The Tribunal’s lengthy final report, which was published today, found there was a “campaign of calumny” against McCabe by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, that was “actively aided” by press officer Superintendent David Taylor.
In his report, Charleton said the tribunal had been about calling the police force “to account”. He said gardaí in every division and district who are “intent on doing their work” must view the findings as “deeply dispiriting”.
He called for more Garda visibility on the streets and a greater “adherence to honesty” among the force.
In remarks critical of An Garda Síochána (AGS) and Tusla (about a rape allegation being incorrectly put on McCabe’s file), he stated: “The worth of any organisation is to be judged by the work it does. The soundness of any organisation may usefully be judged by the reaction it has to the mistakes it makes.”
He said the reaction of both organisations to mistakes they made was “disheartening”.
The gardaí offered no criticism of themselves. They need a complete turn-around in their attitude. This has to be led from senior management.
“Fundamental to that is to acknowledge what the mentality of the organisation lacks. That also involves acknowledging the strengths which our national police force has.”
Charleton noted that while the tribunal centred on alleged garda misconduct, it was also about good police work.
The judge praised the work of Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn and gardaí in the Donegal Division during a time of “domestic chaos and obvious deceit of Garda Keith Harrison”.
Charleton said “hard-working” gardaí in Donegal “did their job in an exemplary fashion despite the problems Garda Keith Harrison threw up”. He said allegations made by Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms about gardaí were “entirely without any validity”.
“While they presented themselves as being the victims of others, the reality that should not be forgotten is that to be wrongly accused is a deeply upsetting experience. Essentially, they accused the gardaí in Donegal of interfering in their home and family life.
This was due, they claimed, to malice against him. So similar, it was asserted, was this alleged interference to what had happened to Sergeant Maurice McCabe, that they claimed that it was inspired not just at local level but by Garda Headquarters.
Charleton said gardaí from the Donegal Division gave evidence to the tribunal “truthfully and with a real sense of the worth of police work to the victims of crime, including those who may have suffered domestic violence”.
“When this tribunal was faced with key evidence that might demonstrate the worth of individual officers, this came when the gardaí were tasked with investigating their own,” the judge added.
Harrison has brought a High Court action aimed at stopping an internal Garda investigation into alleged breaches of discipline by him.
In response to a false claim of rape – that had never been made against McCabe – being erroneously put on his file, the report highlights “how objective and thorough the investigation” was by Superintendent Noel Cunningham.
The report also praised how allegations made by Taylor were handled.
“When it was suspected that police investigations were being compromised through wholesale leaking of the confidential details of investigations to selected members of the press, attention was rightly focused on Superintendent David Taylor, formerly the press officer for Garda Headquarters.
He was given no special favours. The investigation into him was as rigorous as if it had been into any other criminal suspect.
Charleton praised the “brilliance” of Chief Superintendent Frank Clerkin’s work in this investigation.
‘Crying out for leadership’
Charleton noted that many gardaí see their job as “a vocation”.
“They are the people who have to attend traffic accidents and crime scenes and break dreadful news to people. They do that task with humanity.
Our police force is a resource of brilliant men and women. While it is a single-level entry service, it regularly produces people of extraordinary devotion to duty and intelligence at the highest level.
It is that police force that needs to be supported and fostered.
How dispiriting it must be for them that all of what is detailed in this report happened. They are crying out for leadership.
‘Adherence to honesty’
Charleton stated that the “most needed” improvement in AGS is “adherence to honesty and adherence to the duty to do a full and hard day of work in the service of the people of Ireland”.
He said gardaí also need to be visible, saying Ireland differs from other countries in this regard.
“In contrast to other major cities, such as Rome and London and Athens, where police are visible at intersections, at junctions and in public plazas and squares, the extraordinary aspect of our police force is that they keep themselves isolated in police stations and then transport themselves around in squad cars.
It is extraordinarily rare that gardaí are seen in uniform on the streets. In undertaking hundreds of journeys between the Four Courts and Dublin Castle during the currency of the tribunal, on only one occasion was there a policeman to stop a taxi or car breaking through a pedestrian light.
Charleton said this may be “belittled as a small example” but, again noting the impact of visibility, said: “People behave well, generally, in the presence of uniformed officers of the law.”
The judge used cycle lanes to further illustrate his point. He said the lanes, which are “there to protect those cycling for economic, health and environmental motives, who are extraordinarily vulnerable” are “simply ignored”.
“Cars block cycle lanes, intrude on them and endanger cyclists. That happens repeatedly within a minute’s walk of garda stations. So, where are the gardaí?
Again, this may be dismissed as a small example, but the consequences of serious injury, for even one person, is a tragedy.
Charleton noted that police forces may be more visible in countries where a terror threat is more likely to occur, stating: “Ireland, while not having any immediate terrorist threat, but with a serious organised crime problem, has a real problem due to the invisibility of our police force.
That is not a small matter. If it is said that the gardaí are too busy to be out on foot or on bicycles, the tribunal begs to doubt that.
“Everyone serving in the police should give a portion of the day to foot and bicycle patrols,” he added.
Responding to the report, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, who took up the role last month, said AGS “fully accepts the findings of Mr Justice Charleton”.
He said the report “makes for difficult reading for the organisation, but it is vital that we take it as an opportunity to change how we operate so we provide a professional and ethical service to the public”.
I fully agree with Mr Justice Charleton when he states that the obligation for members of An Garda Síochána is to the truth, society and the vulnerable, and not to the organisation.
Harris said given “the significance and scale” of the report, he plans to establish a group to examine the findings “from policy, process, discipline and cultural perspectives to identify the lessons to be learnt and changes to be made”.
The Commissioner welcomed Charleton’s praise of McCabe, adding: “I acknowledge the difficult time he and his family have endured and I hope this chapter is drawing to a close.
I will ensure Sergeant McCabe and all Garda personnel referenced in the report receive appropriate supports.
“I will ensure An Garda Síochána is a safe environment for people to raise issues or concerns. The organisation will improve by having an open and inclusive culture.”
Harris added that, at this stage, it would not be appropriate for him to comment on individual Garda personnel in relation to “specific concerns” raised by Charleton.
Full article can be read at The journal