Garda corruption probe enters next phase

Hoax IRA arms dumps, corrupt senior gardaí, and claims of harassment have already rocked An Garda Siochana yet tomorrow sees the start of another two years of inquiry.

Hoax IRA arms dumps, corrupt senior gardaí, and claims of harassment have already rocked An Garda Siochana yet tomorrow sees the start of another two years of inquiry.

After the first interim report of the Morris Tribunal, set up to examine events around the controversial hit-and-run death of Donegal cattle dealer Richie Barron, public confidence in the force has been shattered.

But with several modules still to run, Tribunal Chairman Mr Justice Frederick Morris has the power to force the Government to demand a massive clean-up of the Gardaí.

The first phase which examined explosive and arms finds in Donegal in the early 1990s culminated in a report in July of this year detailing staggering levels of Garda corruption.

The damning findings revealed two senior officers in the Donegal division, Superintendent Kevin Lennon and Detective Garda Noel McMahon, orchestrated fake arms dumps in the early 1990s to further their careers.

Their superiors, Chief Superintendent Denis Fitzpatrick and Supt John P O’Connor, whom the tribunal found were negligent, were forced out of their high profile Garda roles within weeks of the report.

Fitzpatrick stepped down first, followed a week later by O’Connor – both officers said they would take early retirement after private meetings with Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy.

Many other gardai were implicated in the corruption trail.

Lennon and McMahon worked hand-in-hand with alleged Provisional IRA informer Adrienne McGlinchey to set up the hoax arms dumps.

So shocking were the outcomes of the first module that calls have been made for a root and branch review of how An Garda Siochana operates.

Justice Minister Michael McDowell said the findings of corruption and negligence were a “dark day” for the force.

And plans for an inspectorate to monitor Garda operations and address what the Minister called systematic failings in the force were also revealed.

Several modules looking into arrests, investigations and allegations of harassment in Donegal are to follow over the next two or more years.

The current module into Mr Barron’s death on the outskirts of Raphoe is expected to run until early next year – some witnesses still claim Mr Barron was murdered.

Inquiries into the arrest and detention of members of the McBrearty family after the cattle dealer’s death will follow throughout next year.

And lawyers will also look at allegations of Garda harassment of the family, who have claimed the tribunal’s terms of reference are too narrow.

The McBreartys, who are central to the inquiry, have withdrawn their cooperation claiming they cannot afford legal representation and have called on Mr McDowell to intervene and offer them financial aid.

The family noted some of the gardai appearing at the tribunal were represented by lawyers paid for by associations or directly by the State.

The effectiveness of the garda complaints process will also be called into question over the coming months.

Allegations contained in documents received by Fine Gael Senator Jim Higgins and Labour TD Brendan Howlin will also be looked at as the Tribunal nears the end of its work.

It is believed the politicians were told by whistle blowers that two senior members of the Gardai had acted with impropriety.

A timetable for the inquiry has been agreed with the Attorney General Rory Brady, SC, placing restrictions on lawyers’ fees in a bid to cut the length of the investigation.

It is expected the tribunal will run until September 2006, after which lawyers must take a pay cut. Daily fees will drop from around €2,500 a day to €969.

The Morris Tribunal is running at a time when public confidence in the Gardai is at an all time low.

Security chiefs are faced with the Barr Tribunal into the death of John Carthy, fatally shot by an armed Garda emergency response team at Abbeylara in 2000.

Questions are being raised on a daily basis into how the force is run at the highest level while day-to-day operations are also being queried.

Submissions for legal aid are due to be heard on Monday, while witnesses in the Barron module are due to return to give evidence on Tuesday.

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