THE JUSTICE MINISTER Alan Shatter has for the first time confirmed that a criminal investigation is underway into an incident on board a repatriation flight to Nigeria last month.
In an answer to a parliamentary question, Shatter confirmed details of an incident on the 8 March in which a Garda escorting a prisoner to the bathroom on board a flight from Madrid to Lagos in Nigeria was slashed along the cheek and throat as well as on his back.
The officer required 13 stitches but his injuries were not life-threatening. The prisoner who was being deported was able to disembark the plane upon arrival in Lagos and was not detained further. It is not clear how he was able to smuggle a sharp object on board the plane.
It’s the first time the government has confirmed details of the incident – revealed by TheJournal.ie last month – having previously referred queries to the Gardaí who declined to comment beyond confirming that an investigation was underway.
In answer to a question tabled by Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Dara Calleary on Tuesday, Shatter said: “I am advised by the Garda authorities that a senior officer has been appointed to conduct a criminal investigation into this serious incident and in advance of the outcome of that investigation, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment.
“I would like to take this opportunity to wish the member in question a speedy recovery. Finally, yet again, this incident serves to underline the often difficult and dangerous nature of the duties undertaken by members of the force on behalf of the State.”
Shatter also used the answer to confirm details of the flight which originated in Austria and was organised through FRONTEX – the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of EU member states.
The flight in question stopped in Madrid to take on board returnees and their escorts from Spain, France and Ireland en route to Nigeria. The returnees from Ireland had earlier been escorted on a charter flight from Dublin to Madrid without incident, the Minister said.
Shatter continued: ”The incident in question occurred during the Madrid to Lagos leg of the flight. The injuries sustained by the member were treated by medical personnel on board.
“The flight proceeded to Nigeria and on its return to Madrid, the member was taken to a hospital there. He was discharged from hospital and returned to Ireland on 9 March, the same day as the other GNIB members involved in the flight.”
The Justice Minister also confirmed that a total of seven repatriation flights left Ireland in 2011. There has been only one flight this year. A total of 111 failed asylum seekers and 21 other illegal immigrants were repatriated on these flights in 2011 and 2012.
He did not comment on how many Gardaí were on each flight, saying it was a Garda operational matter.
Following the slashing incident, the Garda Representative Association has accused management of “reckless endangerment” of an officer while Calleary told TheJournal.ie last month that Gardaí were not getting the protection they needed.