Gardaí set to be given new search powers

Gardaí set to be given new search powers
Alan Shatter

New legislation regarding powers of search for gardaí are being drafted after a court ruled previous search warrants were unconstitutional.

The first man convicted in relation to the Northern Bank robbery - financier Ted Cunningham - is expected to be among the criminals to challenge their detention under the old law.

Trials against at least three other men have also collapsed after the Supreme Court ruled searches could no longer be carried out under Section 29 of the Offences Against the State Act.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the Government has approved the drafting of the Criminal Justice (Search Powers) Bill as a priority.

"It is essential that the implications of the Supreme Court judgment be addressed as a priority," said Mr Shatter.

"The Garda Síochána must be in a position to take action to safeguard the public if circumstances of urgency arise, for example relating to suspected offences involving firearms and explosives."

The controversial section 29 warrant was introduced in 1976 to allow senior gardaí - not below the rank of superintendent - to authorise an emergency search without recourse to an independent judge.

It was challenged by Ali Charaf Damache, who was arrested following an international probe in to an alleged conspiracy to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks over his drawing of the prophet Muhammad.

The 45-year-old Algerian, of John Colwyn House, High Street, Waterford, argued the warrant for his arrest in Ireland should have not have been issued by a Garda superintendent but by an independent authority, such as a judge or a peace commissioner.

Mr Shatter said the new proposals will ensure that the operational requirements of the Garda Síochána are met and that all decisions authorising the search of any place, including a dwelling, are taken by persons who are independent of the investigation.

Cunningham was jailed for 10 years in April 2009 for laundering more than £3m (€3.6m) from the notorious Northern Bank robbery.

The 63-year-old financial adviser, from Farran in Co Cork, was also found guilty of nine counts linked to a money racket which moved cash from Belfast to Cork.

He is due to appeal his conviction at Dublin's Court of Criminal Appeal on Monday, April 16.

His son Timothy Cunningham was given a three-year suspended sentence after he admitted knowing the cash was from the December 2004 robbery in Belfast.

A total of 44 search warrants were executed for premises across Cork as part of a mammoth cross border investigation which involved anti-terrorist units, fraud squads and the Criminal Assets Bureau.

When detectives raided Cunningham's home in February 2005 they discovered £2.4m (€2.87m) packed in six holdall bags locked in a cupboard in his basement - which he claimed was from the cash sale of a gravel pit in Co Offaly to Bulgarian businessmen.

On the same day, detectives investigating the missing millions arrested a chef in a Dublin city centre train station who was carrying a Daz washing powder box containing more than 94,000 euro.

Don Bullman, from Fernwood Crescent in Wilton, Co Cork, was jailed for four years for membership of the IRA in March 2007, but no evidence was given as to the origins of the money.

Within days another man, Don Blaney, was arrested for firearms offences when half burnt Sterling notes swept up the chimney of his home in Passage West, Co Cork. He was jailed for two years for possessing more than 200 rounds of ammunition for a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

In June 2010, George Hegarty, of Douglas, pleaded guilty to laundering £66,000 (€78,950) knowing or believing it represented the proceeds of the infamous heist and was given a suspended sentence.

A month earlier Tom Hanlon, a father-of-four from Passage West was jailed for over three years for IRA membership after his arrest during the investigation.

Northern Bank worker Chris Ward - who was wrongly labelled the "inside man" by police - was acquitted in the North when the prosecution dramatically dropped its case.

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