Michael Clifford: Concerns of a miscarriage of justice and for the good name of An Garda Síochána

Gerry Mahon and Eamon O’Neill met in the Zest coffee shop in Limerick on February 6 last.
Michael Clifford: Concerns of a miscarriage of justice and for the good name of An Garda Síochána
Zest Coffee shop on the Raheen Roundabout, Limerick
Zest Coffee shop on the Raheen Roundabout, Limerick

Gerry Mahon and Eamon O’Neill met in the Zest coffee shop in Limerick on February 6 last.

Mr Mahon is a retired chief superintendent, highly regarded in An Garda Siochana. Eamon O’Neill is a serving superintendent, currently under investigation for a variety of alleged crimes.

Back in the 2000s, the two men had served together in combatting the gang warfare that stained Limerick for over a decade until most of the protagonists were locked up.

Superintendent O’Neill has been suspended since 16 May 2019 following an early morning arrest at this home in Clare and a subsequent interview at Athlone garda station. He is currently the subject of a criminal investigation with three separate strands.

He is challenging that suspension in a judicial review in the High Court and claims he is entirely innocent of any crime, the basis for which he said is “preposterous and mischievous in the extreme”.

On the day he met Gerry Mahon, Superintendent O’Neill wasn’t long out of St Patrick’s psychiatric hospital. He had been an in-patient for 100 days since the previous November after suffering a deterioration in his health.

He puts this down entirely to what has befallen him since he was arrested and suspended.

Mr Mahon contacted him to meet up, to check in on a former colleague who was obviously going through an extremely difficult time.

Garda Superintendent Eamon O'Neill
Garda Superintendent Eamon O'Neill

The Zest coffee shop is on the first floor over Casey’s furniture shop in the Raheen area of Limerick. Soon after the two men sat down, one of them noticed another senior garda, Detective Superintendent Seamus Nolan, entering the coffee shop.

Both men were extremely surprised that they would run into the serving detective in these circumstances.

“The presence of Detective Superintendent Nolan and the colleague in that coffee shop...is highly controversial,” Mr Mahon stated in an affidavit.

“I could not begin to estimate the chances of Superintendent O’Neill being present in a coffee shop on the first floor of a furniture store and the appearance on duty or otherwise of Detective Superintendent Nolan. The odds are insurmountable if consideration is given to the fact that the plaintiff was recently released from hospital.

“Even more disturbing is that the aforementioned Detective Superintendent momentarily paused when came to Superintendent O’Neill. If this was a chance meeting he would have acknowledged it.

"Rather Detective Superintendent Nolan moved away without acknowledging his colleague and sat merely two tables away in full sight. I say that I personally witnessed the plaintiff crumble at the appearance of Detective Superintendent Nolan.”

When Supt O’Neill’s solicitor Dan O’Gorman wrote the gardaí about the matter he was told that it was a coincidence.

“Detective Superintendent Nolan’s attendance in the Zest coffee shop on that day was not in any way connected with this investigation,” a garda inspector replied to the solicitor.

Mr Mahon, also stated he believes there is a major danger of a miscarriage of justice in the case.

“I wish to state that I am not a friend of the plaintiff -Supt O’Neill),” Mr Mahon swore.

“I served long hours and days with him at a time of national crisis. I reached out to him in circumstances where I felt it appropriate to do so as someone whom I well-regarded and I was sure required support. I say the plaintiff requires support. I also say the plaintiff requires the intervention of the court.

“On the basis of all the documentation that I have read carefully in relation to these proceedings I have very serious concerns that a major miscarriage of justice is being perpetrated and that the good name of An Garda Siochana will be reduced not only in the public mind but also in the rank and file members.”

On the other side, the chief superintendent of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI), Walter O’Sullivan, has told the High Court that everything involving the suspension and investigation of Superintendent O’Neill is being done by the book and according to procedure.

“Extensive, thorough and comprehensive investigations are or have been undertaken into all strands of enquiry that have arisen in this case,” the NBI man states.

“These are not matters in which the facts and truth of what occurred could be established in a number of weeks as deposed by the plaintiff.”

Well known

Eamon O’Neill is a well-known figure in Limerick through his garda career and involvement in the GAA. He represented Ireland in handball and played underage hurling and football for the county.

In 2017, when John Kiely was appointed manager of the Limerick senior hurling team, the superintendent came on board as a member of the backroom team and was there for the county’s All Ireland win in 2018.

His world was turned upside down on the morning of 15th May 2019. He lives in Clare with his partner, a detective garda, and their young child. He awoke in his home to find a number of gardaí in his bedroom, including chief super Walter O’Sullivan of the NBCI.

Retired chief super Mahon says he is “disturbed” by the manner of the arrest of Super O’Neill.

“It would appear that the sole evidence relied on by chief Superintendent Walter O’Sullivan was, by his own affidavit, 'confidential sources'. It is my professional opinion that the reliance on confidential sources is the most hazardous and potentially flawed motivator of police action.”

Chief Super O’Sullivan of the NBCI asserts in documents that he conducted himself and his team properly and according to procedure.

Around the same time of Mr O'Neill's detention, two other gardaí were similarly arrested. Inspector Arthur Ryan has been named in court documents as one of these men. The third member is a ranking garda who is currently before the criminal courts.

Supt O’Neill was brought to Athlone garda station and questioned in the presence of his solicitor, Mr O’Gorman, about two issues.

One involved an investigation into serious crime the NBCI was conducting into the ranking garda. Super O’Neill has sworn that he understands the accusation is that he revealed information to the ranking garda contrary to Section 62 of the 2005 An Garda Siochana Act.

This concerned a listening device that was attached to a vehicle owned by the ranking garda. Supt O’Neill denies any knowledge of the device and claims there is no evidence whatsoever of him revealing information.

Garda Superintendent Gerry Mahon
Garda Superintendent Gerry Mahon

However, the NBCI has confirmed the agency is still conducting an investigation into Supt O’Neill on this matter and will be forwarding a file to the DPP in the near future.

The second issue involved a meeting in the Hurler’s Bar in Castletroy in Limerick city in January 2019.

Superintendent O’Neill, Inspector Arthur Ryan and the ranking garda were present. It was alleged in interviews that Inspector Ryan sniffed cocaine in full view of a CCTV camera.

Supt O’Neill states that any basic investigation would uncover that the inspector in question “is the least likely character to take or ingest an illicit substance” and that the CCTV evidence amounts to the man “wiping his nose”.

A file on the matter was sent to the DPP who ruled there would be no prosecution.

Inspector Ryan is still the subject of a disciplinary inquiry in the force over the incident, as is Superintendent O’Neill for allegedly being present and not acting to prevent it.

Superintendent O’Neill has stated that by reason of his career and sporting life he does not socialise with anybody who takes recreational drugs.

“On the contrary, my social circle is exclusively confined to members of An Garda Siochana and persons involved in sporting activities. These aspects of my life could have been readily ascertained by an investigator upon the most cursory inspection of my life and my activities.”

In his affidavit, Retired chief Super Mahon has criticised the handling of the whole issue around the Hurler’s Bar.

“I say that the purported events at the Hurlers Bar, in my professional opinion, brings into disrepute the whole disciplinary process.

“There appears to be no evidence of any illicit substance taking and it is not surprising that the Director of Public Prosecutions would not bring charges against the plaintiff’s colleague Inspector Arthur Ryan.”

The NBCI disagrees with this interpretation, stating that it has conducted the investigation properly.

Since his arrest and suspension, another matter has arisen for Eamon O’Neill. He is now under criminal investigation for allegedly cancelling speeding and parking FCP (Fixed Charge Penalties) in 35 instances over a three year period.

It is claimed among those who benefited from cancelled FCPs were high profile GAA players and a TV personality, all of whom he would have come into contact through his association with the GAA.

Super O’Neill believes this investigation amounts to a “ruse”.

“I have always stated that the investigation into the FCP has arisen by reason of a realisation that there exists no evidence whatsoever to support the main allegation (Section 62) and that this investigation amounts to a desperate bid to find fault of any nature which can then be held up to justify the very extreme actions that have heretofore taken place. This action might be described as a ruse."

He claims that investigators, “most likely by unlawful means and outside the permission or terms of their warrant or authority, have trawled through my records and have found material that might suggest or confirm that I sought or procured the cancellation of FCPs.

“The cancellation of FCPs is not an unusual occurrence in An Garda Siochana and is not a crime of any sort. In courts, the length and breadth of the country matters pertaining to road traffic legislation are abandoned before District Court judges for various and varying reasons.”

He remains under criminal investigation for the FCP cancellations.

Chief Super Walter O’Sullivan of the NBCI stated in his affidavit that all 35 cases of cancelled tickets required considerable investigation.

“Each investigation is extensive in its own right and it is the intention of An Garda Siochana to submit a report on each case to the office of the DPP,” he stated.

Supt O’Neill has also related the effect that the whole affair has had on his health. Since his discharge from St Pat’s last February, he says, his symptoms continue to involve paranoia, flashbacks and shaking.

“I suffer deep anxieties. I have watched my partner deteriorate. I say she has also been an impatient in St Patrick’s University Hospital directly as a result of these events. I say the events have been life-changing and are directly attributable to the mismanagement and handling of this matter.

“I say that in consideration of the appropriateness of my suspension, no regard was taken in relation to my health, personal situation, my unblemished and exceptional record of service, in addition to the obvious and serious collateral damage that has been caused.”

Gerry Mahon is one of two retired chief superintendents who have swore affidavits of similar character for Superintendent’s O’Neill’s side in the judicial review. The second is from John Kerins who retired last year.

Mr Kerins affidavit was not opened in the High Court reading because of the restrictions on time but Judge Senan Allen indicated he would read all the papers.

Judge Allen has reserved his judgement in the case.

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