Judge finds endemic corruption in Donegal

HARASSMENT. Appalling dereliction of duty. Terrible injustice. Endemic corruption. Shocking scandals.

The words are those of Mr Justice Frederick Morris and they stick out from his final two reports.

The reports continue the overall impression from the previous six reports (see panel), which covered abuses of power, forged evidence, negligence, indiscipline, cover-ups, wrongful arrests and perjury at all ranks in Donegal.

But the judge has always tried to be fair-minded and highlight the good work of gardaí, including those who bravely refused to be part of the “blue wall of denial”.

Not only that, but he does not pull any punches in issuing stinging criticism of some of the main victims of garda abuses, such as Frank McBrearty Senior.

The seventh report, running to 375 pages, documents at length the garda campaign against Mr McBrearty snr.

Three senior officers in Donegal sent Sergeant John White, known as a “strict disciplinarian”, to bring Mr McBrearty “to heel” over persistent public order problems at his nightclub.

Mr Justice Morris said the death of Richie Barron in October 1996 was a “catalyst” for the crackdown. Mr McBrearty’s son and nephew were wrongly suspected of murdering Mr Barron.

Mr Justice Morris said both Mr McBrearty and Sgt White were obstinate men, which fuelled the problem.

The judge said the garda operation — leading to 68 summonses against the McBreartys — was excessive and was “harassment”.

He said the three senior officers knew what was happening and never intervened. Not only that, but they distanced themselves from Sgt White at the tribunal.

Mr Justice Morris described this as an “appalling dereliction of the duty” officers have to men under them.

Despite the harassment, and the injustice done to Mr McBrearty snr and his family, Mr Morris strongly criticised the publican for publishing serious allegations not only about Sgt White, who was sacked in 2006, but against two senior officers who had “exemplary records”.

He said these allegations — dealt with in the eight report — were “completely without substance”.

Mr Justice Morris also strongly criticised two politicians — Fine Gael’s Jim Higgins and Labour’s Brendan Howlin — for using their position to give some authority to these allegations. He said the pair did “very little” to check their sources.

The judge urged the Oireachtas to urgently review how members deal with such allegations.

On a third issue, the judge said the Garda Complaints Board did not fail to deal properly with the 61 complaints it received from the McBrearty family. It said this was due to its limited investigation powers.

He added: “The system of gardaí investigating gardaí, particularly when faced by a ‘blue wall’ of denial from the gardaí under investigation, was never going to be capable of uncovering the corruption that was endemic in the Donegal division at the time.”

In his final, general, conclusion, Mr Justice Morris said numerous recommendations had been made in the tribunal’s eight reports over the past six years — a number had been implemented, but others had not.

He said significant reforms included the establishment of the Garda Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate.

The judge ends with a hint of optimism.

“These reforms, together with strong adherence to principles of accountability at all levels within An Garda Síochána, and positive leadership at officer level, will hopefully go a long way towards avoiding the type of shocking scandals into which the tribunal has inquired over the last number of years.”

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