Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has rejected accusations that informants were being run “off-book” outside the official system.
He said there was a “very tight regime” in place and that neither he nor any of his senior team was aware of gardaí bypassing the Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) system.
Mr Callinan was responding to questioning from members of an Oireachtas committee, which was examining a report from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.
This report, published in May, raised suspicions that informants could be run outside the CHIS system.
It attacked the force for delaying investigations into alleged collusion between convicted drug dealer Kieran Boylan and a Garda unit, and accused gardaí of delaying access to files, resulting in the investigation dragging on for four years.
During a previous submission to the joint committee on public service, oversight, and petitions, GSOC also said it had serious concerns about the operation of the informant handling system.
Mr Callinan yesterday said the CHIS system operated to best international practice, had been backed by experts from the European police agency, and was subject to internal checks and “intrusive” external oversight by a retired High Court judge who had full access to people and documents.
He said that, where a garda “develops a relationship” with somebody supplying information or “tasks an individual”, those people must be referred for CHIS assessment. “This is an obligation. There is no exception,” said Mr Callinan.
On the claim of informants being run “off-book”, he said: “I can assure you that, as far as I am aware, I am not aware of any such activity and if GSOC have any evidence that that is occurring I will deal with it very, very firmly. ”
He said he ran “a very tight regime”, but asked how one could have oversight to catch officers who bypass the system: “How do you cater for something you don’t know about?”
Mr Callinan spent considerable time explaining why he had such difficulty giving GSOC access to sensitive information on informants.
“Without knowing the precise nature of what will happen to that information and how it is handled, we would surely be putting a life or lives at risk,” he said. “That is the naked reality.”
He said he sought guarantees at the time of the GSOC investigation and that this led to some delay. However, he said a new system hammered out between the two bodies last September had given him the “comfort” he needed.
Mr Callinan said the force spent over €9m investigating complaints on behalf of GSOC since 2007. He said the watchdog had searched two Garda stations on foot of a warrant — one in Cork and one in Limerick.
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