By Frank Connolly
Not much has changed since I first wrote about Garda malpractice in the early 1980s. At that time I reported on the miscarriage of justice concerning two youths from Tallaght who were wrongly convicted of stealing a car and carrying its distressed owner on the bonnet as it sped away from his home in Firhouse, and given five-year sentences. The theft and assault intensified the hysteria surrounding car theft in the city and I recall thousands of delegates at that years Fine Gael ard fheis pulsating as the then justice minister promised similarly severe penalties and the introduction of spiked chains to slow the gallop of the joyriders.
The Tallaght Two case, as it became known, was marked by a chain of misconduct by investigating gardaí including at least one flawed internal report which came to conclusions that were in direct contradiction to the facts. After a number of trials and having served their sentences, Joseph Grogan and Joseph Meleady, were granted certificates of miscarriage of justice although they are still, all these years later, awaiting the compensation due to them for their wrongful imprisonment. What was clear from the Tallaght Two case was that gardaí had given false information about fingerprint evidence to the courts, that had led to their conviction; and had failed to act when the man who actually drove the stolen car admitted his role to the parents of Meleady and Grogan in my presence and insisted that their sons were not involved.
Further, the gardai ignored the claims of the other car thieves involved, one of whom was convicted and whose father was jailed for contempt of court when he tried to point out that innocent men were being jailed. The third man in the stolen car was convicted of perjury when he tried to insist, truthfully, that he and his two friends were culpable and that Meleady and Grogan were in no way involved. Sound familiar?
When I met the McBrearty family in the late 1990s a similar pattern of Garda abuse, inept and inaccurate internal inquiries and cover-up, as well as illegal phone-tapping and intimidation of witnesses was evident as the Donegal Garda sought to set up Frank McBrearty junior and his cousin Mark McConnell for a murder that they did not commit and, in fact, was not a murder. As the Morris tribunal subsequently discovered, it was more likely that cattle dealer Richie Barron was killed in a hit and run incident, and that the more likely suspect was a member of the force. Again, years of false accusations including by paid informers, intimidation of witnesses, illegal phone tapping, abuse in custody and perjured evidence by members of the Garda were among the artillery used to batter a respected Raphoe family whose pub and nightclub happened to present a commercial threat to more politically influential businesses in the north-west.
Equally, the treatment of the Diver family in Ardara when they were blamed for planting explosive devices at a controversial MMDS television mast in 1997, wrongly arrested and intimidated until it emerged that a member of the Garda, also involved in the McBrearty scandal, was actually the culprit. Members of the force had explosives planted, and discovered, in Rossnowlagh and other parts of Donegal which they claimed as IRA finds in order to hype their promotional chances while the same gardaí had drugs placed in the premises of Inisowen publican, Frank Short, who was also granted a miscarriage of justice certificate and a huge payout from the State when the truth emerged.
What about the treatment of the Gallagher family in St Johnston whose home was subjected to a three-day raid by the Special Branch in a search for explosives which Garda informer, William Doherty, had failed to plant on the property in an elaborate but unsuccessful exercise to stitch up Alfie Gallagher’s son, John? Where’s Willie by the way?
The close and unhealthy relationship between security correspondents and their ‘Garda contacts’ across the media ensured that I had a free run on these extraordinary stories as they were advised by their handlers that there was no substance to these wild claims of Garda corruption in the north-west division. For two years and more I published exclusives in the Sunday Business post and in documentary form on TV3, before the political scandal deepened and the Morris tribunal was established.
When that lengthy and expensive inquiry was completed, its findings were largely ignored and the illicit practices it uncovered continued in Garda divisions across the country. Its most important recommendation – to set up an independent authority to oversee the force, like Patten in the North, was set aside until it was forced back on the political agenda in the wake of the recent Callinan resignation, the revelations of widespread bugging of garda stations, the whistleblower claims on penalty points etc, and the Bailey case.
Again the bribing of informers, the falsification of evidence, the intimidation of witnesses including of Marie Farrell who gave false evidence in court against Bailey under duress from certain gardaí, have featured – where the only certain outcome is that the killer of Sophie Toscan du Plantier will never be tracked down . Again the toxic relationship between certain media and senior ‘garda sources’ will come back to haunt those outlets which so vigorously resisted Bailey’s unsuccessful defamation case against them. It will be fascinating to read the transcripts of the forty-four phone calls between journalists and gardaí from the tapes recorded at Bandon garda station during the du Plantier investigation. Hopefully, they will receive the same blanket coverage given to the colourful Anglo tapes by Independent Newspapers last year.
So where next? Whether Alan Shatter and his departmental secretary, Brian Purcell, survive the fall-out from various enquiries underway at present is the burning question of the day, but much more is at stake. For in the savage heat of debate and accusation of recent weeks other more important issues have arisen and these go to the heart of future policing in this State.
Over recent days and weeks the political battle lines have been drawn between Fianna Fáil and the Government over what the opposition party claims has been the ‘scapegoating of the commissioner’, a claim which makes the traditional ‘law and order’ party, Fine Gael, deeply uncomfortable. Ironically, almost all the scandals now emerging have their origins in the time when Fianna Fáil was in government. Indeed, Shatter challenged then justice minister, John O’Donoghue, over the Garda bugging of conversations between solicitors and their clients in the McBrearty case as far back as May 2001. O’Donoghue accused him of making “ill-tempered, outrageous, and unfounded allegations”.
The latest casualty may yet turn out to be an unnamed judge of the District Court who has been accused by former garda, John Wilson, of seeking to interfere with his efforts to blow the lid on the widespread cancellation of penalty points to the benefit of people with influence or connections with the force. The judge, who has previous form in making controversial statements about witnesses and solicitors in his court, criticised Wilson, a family friend, for raising the issue with TD, Clare Daly, whom he described as “a bitch” and whose arrest on a drink driving offence he described as “karma”. The beak was allegedly furious that Wilson had revealed publicly that another controversial judge, Mary Devins, had penalty points terminated, asking “what had she ever done to anybody?”. The judge made outrageous and unrepeatable comments, according to Wilson, about whistleblower, Maurice McCabe.
The meetings in February and May 2013, when these comments were made, took place in the Hotel Kilmore in Cavan. Wilson was accompanied by his brother, the Fianna Fáil senator, Diarmuid Wilson who has refused to comment on the claims. The brothers are related to former Fianna Fáil minister, John Wilson. In the course of their conversation the judge, according to a detailed statement by the whistleblower and seen by Village, referred to a serving Garda officer against whom John Wilson had made serious allegations of wrongdoing as “a good Fianna Fáil man”.
When will a government decide get to grips with the Garda culture problem?