Garda Ombudsman’s report criticises informant system

An Garda Síochána should be subject to “intrusive and independent” oversight into how it handles informants, the Garda Ombudsman has said in a hard-hitting report.

The watchdog is demanding “immediate and direct” access to the Garda computer system, claiming gardaí “withheld evidence” during its four-year investigation into allegations of collusion between a convicted drugs trafficker and members of the force.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) claimed senior gardaí knew about the relationship between detectives in a specialist unit and dealer Kieran Boylan, who was run “off book”, or outside the official informant system.

Last December, the ombudsman sent a file to the DPP, who directed in April that no charges should be brought against any gardaí involved.

GSOC warned yesterday that the lack of guidance on the use of informants created “significant risks”, as there were effectively no limits on what criminality they were authorised to engage in.

The GSOC probe was set up in Oct 2008 after public concern at how serious drug charges against Boylan were dropped by the DPP.

The attack by the ombudsman sparked a public row with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, who strongly rejected claims the force was uncooperative and complained at not been given the right of reply by the commission before it went public.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter expressed concern at the public dispute and said he had called a crisis meeting between the ombudsman and the commissioner.

Mr Shatter said he was concerned at the “inordinate” delay in the investigation. He recently met with GSOC over its concerns about access to Garda information and the commissioner was “in no doubt” as to his views on the matter.

In a series of findings and accusations yesterday, GSOC said:

*They had “grave concerns” at the handling and management of informants, “both historic and current”;

*The level of co-operation by gardaí was “highly unsatisfactory” and had a “significant detrimental impact” on their investigation;

*They were not recommending disciplinary action against any gardaí because they believed their actions were known by superiors.

The ombudsman said a “culture of mistrust and competitiveness” had developed between national Garda units due to the selective release of sensitive intelligence to one unit. This had “impacted” on their effectiveness.

It said a state body should operate “independent and intrusive” oversight on the Garda informant system and be able to examine the recruitment/registration and handling of informants, the security of intelligence, documentation, and rewards/incentives for informants.

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