Michael Clifford: When will Garda 'corruption probe' spread to Dublin?

More than 100 gardaí have now been interviewed in ticket-squaring investigation, but there are many questions about its operation
Michael Clifford: When will Garda 'corruption probe' spread to Dublin?

Last month, the president of the Garda Representative Association, Frank Thornton, issued a circular to members in the Limerick division, noting there was 'plummeting morale' as the investigation was causing 'trauma and mental torture' to rank and file members.

When will the major inquiry into garda corruption spread to Dublin? Currently, what has been repeatedly referred to in the media as a “corruption probe” is taking place in the Limerick division of An Garda Síochána. 

At the weekend it was reported that a very senior officer is the latest to be interviewed by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) in connection with the corruption. 

On Monday, the Irish Examiner reported that 13 members of An Garda Síochána were interviewed that day in a Limerick Garda station as part of the inquiry. Notably, the senior garda referenced above was interviewed not in a station but in his solicitor’s office, a detail that requires further examination.

The inquiry has been ongoing for nearly two years. Somewhere north of 100 gardaí are reported to have been interviewed, along with dozens of members of the public, many in both categories under caution, indicating they are suspects in a crime. 

Four members of AGS and a retired senior member have been charged as part of the investigation. Five other members of the traffic corps of AGS have been suspended since November 2020.

Last month, the president of the Garda Representative Association, Frank Thornton, issued a circular to members in the Limerick division, noting there was “plummeting morale” as the investigation was causing “trauma and mental torture” to rank and file members.

The inquiry is centred on the cancellation of Fixed Charge Penalty Notices (FCPN) for motoring offences. This practice was endemic in the force prior to the emergence of claims by former sergeant Maurice McCabe in 2013-14. 

Major reforms

Following that, major reforms were undertaken and all the indications are that the level of malpractice was greatly reduced. However, it appears that it has persisted in some quarters, albeit on much less frequent basis.

Cancelling FCPNs, or squaring tickets as it is known, is completely contrary to Garda regulations and could be interpreted as breaking the law. If some feel they can ignore motoring offences, then road safety can be compromised. 

The cancellation of Fixed Charge Penalty Notices (FCPN) for motoring offences was endemic in the force prior to the emergence of claims by former sergeant Maurice McCabe in 2013-14. Picture: Barry Cronin
The cancellation of Fixed Charge Penalty Notices (FCPN) for motoring offences was endemic in the force prior to the emergence of claims by former sergeant Maurice McCabe in 2013-14. Picture: Barry Cronin

Also, if there is one law for prominent citizens as well as friends and family of gardaí, and another for everybody else, the system falls into disrepute. Notwithstanding that, transgressions in recent years were dealt with internally through the disciplinary process.

Now all has changed, it would appear, or at least it has in Limerick. The optics suggest that a zero tolerance to squaring tickets is being applied to gardaí in the Treaty city. 

The Dublin-based NBCI, the State’s top crime fighting unit, is for the first time investigating the malpractice. There are, however, some disturbing features to the investigation which give rise to questions as to whether all is as it appears to be.

The main culpability for squaring tickets lies with senior officers, usually of the rank of superintendent or above. 

They are the ones contacted by offending motorists trying to have their ticket sorted out. The senior member then “requests” the square from the frontline rank and file members who detected the motoring offence. 

The rank and file member might be forgiven for interpreting the “request” as an order, or a suggestions freighted with all the power that comes from a senior colleague in a disciplined force. The rank and file member, usually young, often green, would, in some instances, require a strong sense of self to tell the senior colleague to take a hike, that he or she would not be revisiting the issuing of the ticket.

Yet despite that dynamic, it is the rank and file members who are being treated as the main culprits. Ordinary members have been arrested, interviewed under caution, had their phones confiscated, and in the cases cited above, suspended. Reports emanating from the investigation suggest some have been shaken down in interviews, told to co-operate or find a new job.

Meanwhile, there has been little about the senior members at the nexus of the squaring of tickets. No senior serving member has been suspended. The case reported at the weekend was the first of a senior serving member actually being interviewed in this phase of the investigation. 

The interview took place in the pleasant and unthreatening environment of a solicitor’s office rather than in a Garda station where the young rank and file members were interviewed. For whom is the zero tolerance approach being adopted? Is this a case of sticking it to the rank and file instead of concentrating on where the problem arises? If so, why?

Confined to Limerick

Equally, why is it being confined to Limerick? There is absolutely nothing to suggest the gardaí in Limerick are more prone to this malpractice than colleagues elsewhere. 

If anything, it is likely to be far more widespread in somewhere like Dublin due to population, not to mind the presence in the capital of practically all national units of AGS. 

Wouldn’t it be a delicious irony, for instance, if anybody in the NBCI, past or present, had ever “requested” a square? 

In any event, if the focus shifted to Dublin, the investigating officers of the NBCI who have been trucking up and down to Limerick for the last two years chasing squares wouldn’t even have to leave home to continue their investigations. 

If a truly zero tolerance approach is being adopted to this malpractice, then it is inconceivable that the sleuths from the specialist unit would not turn their investigative focus on Dublin and its hinterland.

In the absence of any such pivot, and in light of the completely unequal treatment of senior and ordinary members in Limerick who may be implicated, serious questions arise. 

Is this operation a genuine police investigation following all the long-standing tenets of investigative work, including the application of proportionality and the absence of bias? If not, then what exactly is going on?

Police in any functioning democracy have huge power at their disposal. Any suspicion that such power could be subject to misuse should be a cause for alarm. 

As of yet, nothing concrete has emerged to suggest that power is being misused in this investigation, but there are disturbing questions that remain unanswered. 

Despite that, few in the other centres of power, Government, policing oversight bodies, even the media, appear to have any concerns about the matter. That of itself provides plenty of food for thought.

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