Gardaí to be 'far more assertive' in policing property repossession, Commissioner says

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said gardaí will be “far more assertive” in policing the repossession of properties by private contractors.

He also warned protestors targeting the homes of Government ministers and others that there would be “no tolerance” of any behaviour that could amount to a breach of the peace, describing such demonstrations as “scaling up” what could be considered legitimate protest.

The Garda chief made the comments at the Oireachtas Justice Committee, which was examining the controversy surrounding the failure to prosecute almost 3,500 juvenile offenders who had been deemed unsuitable for the Juvenile Diversion Programme.

In a fresh development in relation to this programme, Sinn Fein's Martin Kenny asked the commissioner to also examine the sanctions applied to young people who had been deemed suitable for the programme.

He recited a case of a young girl sexually assaulted by a number of juveniles who had been accepted into the programme. He said that to the “horror” of the victim, who, he said, has “suffered greatly”, and her family, the juveniles were only given a caution. This prompted an offer from the commissioner for a private meeting with deputy Kenny to discuss the matter.

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire about the garda report into the policing of the North Frederick Street repossession in September 2018, the commissioner said they were building in lessons into a final report.

In that incident, gardaí and members of a private security firm, conducting the repossession on foot of a court order, were both photographed wearing balaclavas or ski masks.

The commissioner said there would be a change in how gardaí “manage” those incidents and would now be “far more assertive” in how repossessions are carried out, the time they are done, and how to “minimise” any breach of the peace.

Gardaí were again engulfed in controversy last December at how they handled a forceful repossession at Strokestown, Co Roscommon.

The commissioner said the lessons were being incorporated into their operating procedures, which would form part of a report on policing public order incidents currently being compiled by the Garda Inspectorate for the Policing Authority.

He told Mr Ó Laoghaire the Garda's job is to preserve the peace and prevent crime at these incidents and that they would be assertive in ensuring that the manner in which the repossession is being conducted is “conducive” to achieving those ends.

In relation to the failure to prosecute 3,500 juvenile offenders, he said just over 3,200 gardaí associated with the issue were still serving and that he had referred the cases to local chief superintendents to consider possible disciplinary proceedings.

He said that while there was a combination of individual and organisational failings, a “basic skill” of a member was to prepare to file to the DPP, adding: “that didn’t happen”.

The Garda Representative Association has blamed “systemic failings”, citing the absence of coordinated training, inadequate supervision and technological supports at the time.

Bombings review

A full cold-case review of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings is under “active consideration”, Commissioner Drew Harris has said.

He said a “scoping” exercise was being conducted to inform the decision as to whether or not to refer the matter to the Garda Serious Crime Review Team.

Probed by committee chair Caoimhghín O Caoláin about using information he has from his previous positions in the PSNI, Mr Harris said that what he is able to do now is “as commissioner”.

Asked by Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick about his knowledge when he served as PSNI deputy chief constable regarding the identity of the IRA chief who ordered the murder of Tom Oliver in 1991, the commissioner said it was “no longer” his information but that of the PSNI chief constable.

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