O'Higgins report

How can you have good policing in a 'deplorable' garda station full of trainees?

With 22 probationary gardaí in 2008, Bailieboro was effectively a mini Templemore.

PastedImage-71273 Bailieboro garda station. Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

NO PARKING FOR garda vehicles. No room for private consultations. No dedicated incident room. An inadequate kitchen. An unsuitable reception. No hot water for showers for men. No showers for women.

A broken heating system. Sewage backups. Foul smells.

This was the building where too many probationary gardaí worked without proper supervision on investigations now found to have been marred with serious flaws and failings.

The deficiencies in Bailieboro were well-documented and known to the force.

In 2007, a scathing GRA sub-committee advised its members to vacate the station on health and safety grounds. The word deplorable was used.

Built in 1870 as a Royal Irish Constabulary, a flat-roofed single storey extension was added to the building in 1970. By 2007, a two-story prefab was constructed in desperation. In 2008, there were more improvements: an air condition unit was fitted; sanitation facilities were upgraded; and the inspector’s office was refurbished.

But, according to the now-published O’Higgins Commission report, there was still a general agreement that the station was not “fit for purpose”.

A list of “defects and inadequacies” takes up an entire sheet of his 362-page report.

The retired judge tasked with examining some of the work of those gardaí described their working conditions as “deplorable”. That word again. He conceded that the environment was not conducive to either good policing or good morale.

It was good policing and good morale that was often missing in the Cavan-Monaghan district.

And it certainly wasn’t good policing that victims saw in the circumstances which led to this latest probe.

These deplorable conditions were a factor but they weren’t the cause. Or an excuse.

Justice Kevin O’Higgins concluded his investigation with a belief that the deficiencies and failures were not caused by poor conditions but by failures of individuals to carry out their duties properly.

Some of his final words on the matter were among his most definitive:

The examination by the commission of the issues of management and resources showed that there were problems at many levels. Ultimately, however, the failures investigated by the commission were at a human level and caused by poor individual performance and, in many instances, by poor supervision.

However, his report also exonerates many people: it finds that allegations of corruption against former commissioner Martin Callinan were unfounded. It also cleared ex-minister Alan Shatter of any wrongdoing in his handling of the fallout from this less than satisfactory policing.

Despite the many passes given by O’Higgins, there is still a very clear narrative that victims of crime were failed by An Garda Síochána because of the many problems with management and resources that culminated in poor individual performances and poor supervision.

Victims let down

The most serious mistakes led to an attempted child abduction and a cold-blooded murder. The tragic chain of events began when Jerry McGrath attacked taxi driver Mary Lynch after she picked him up as a passenger in Kells, County Meath in April 2007.

She escaped and McGrath was arrested.

However, the charge brought was assault rather than the more serious of assault causing harm. He was granted bail and returned to his native Tipperary. There, he attempted to abduct a five-year-old girl after he broke into a house armed with a hurley.

Again, he was charged. Again, he was released on bail.

This was October 2007. On 8 December 2007, the naked body of  Sylvia Roche-Kelly was found in a bath in a hotel room in Limerick city. She had met McGrath at a city nightclub the previous night and returned with him to the hotel where he went into a rage, attacked and killed her.

PastedImage-77150 Jerry McGrath being led away from court during the murder case of Sylvia Roche Kelly.

O’Higgins said the entire investigation into Mary Lynch’s assault was “characterised by delay and lack of effective supervision of the investigating member”. He also lamented the ”original misclassification of the Virginia assault” and the “failure to communicate effectively within An Garda Síochána to ensure that accurate and relevant information is shared”.

In another case, the commission acknowledged that bus driver Lorraine Browne underwent a “harrowing experience” and the matter was not dealt with “in a competent and professional manner”.

She had reported to gardaí that a number of men who had been misbehaving on her minibus may have assaulted another unknown girl on board.

She told investigators:

I heard the girl on the bus screaming. I ran around to the side door and saw the big lad had a grip of the girl holding her by her clothes at the front. She then broke free of him and ran up the town screaming.

Browne was left cowering and hiding from the men “at the corner of the road”.

The case was decided when the woman was compensated for loss of earnings of €150 – the investigating garda handed her a brown envelope with the money and told her she would have to withdraw her statement if she took it.

A report into the inquiry found that this was prima facie evidence of a sexual assault and that the complaint should have been investigated even in the absence of identifying the victim.

None of these victims were “well served”, the commission finds.

In fact, that phrase – “not well served” – is used five times throughout the 362 pages.

Whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe is praised for bringing these cases to public attention – and for highlighting legitimate concerns around procedures and practices.


A mini training college

In March 2008, there were 86 probationer gardaí in the Cavan-Monaghan district. The totality of the force in the area was just 338.

Bailieboro was home to 22 of those probationers in March 2008. That’s 22 out of 51.

Although it was policy for the younger men and women to always be accompanied in their duties, there were too many times where they had to work on their own because of a lack of more experienced members. The ratio was often five probationers for every sergeant in a unit.

According to GRA representative for Cavan-Monaghan James Morrisroe, nearly three quarters of the station’s workers over the two years were probationary gardaí.

“It was in effect a mini Templemore without the management structure or training systems in place to support such a system,” he told after the report’s publication yesterday.

It was inevitable that inexperienced junior gardaí were going to be the first responders to all serious incidents. There was also no briefing or indeed de-briefing system in place.

“They were, in effect, thrown in at the deep end and it was sink or swim.”

O’Higgins expressed his surprise on hearing that superintendents only serve for periods between 18 months and two years, describing it as “unduly short” and “not conducive to stability, continuity or team building”.

Morrisroe also points out that Bailieboro was a training station for newly-appointed district officers. During the two-year period in the spotlight, there were three district officers and a “huge turnover” of recently-promoted sergeants.

In one of the incidents examined, the investigating probationary garda says he had three different sergeants between April 2007 and Sept 2007.

“There was absolutely no continuity at any level,” adds Morrisroe.

It has been nine years since these incidents. And both the building and morale remain in the same conditions.

Morrisroe says that the Bailieboro district has been operating under a cloud of suspicion since 2007.

The rank-and-file’s representative adds: “In the middle of last year, to great fanfare, the government announced the building of a new station on a green field site. To date this site has not been even obtained. It’s no wonder that morale in Bailieboro district is at rock bottom.”

PastedImage-58710 Bailieboro town.

O’Higgins is aware of the power of his investigation and the ‘shadow’ it has created in Bailieboro, causing stress to many members of An Garda Síochána. He has asked for the fast-tracking of a new station as a “symbolic gesture” to help boost the morale and “herald a new era” in the services provided to the community.

He says it is of the “utmost importance” that this inquiry – and these tragedies and mistakes – signal a new beginning for gardaí in the town.

Looking for a pardon against any disciplinary measures that may have been foreseen with his findings, the judge says they would not be helpful.

What he wants? For this inquiry to be the end of the matter.

To allow gardaí in the area to learn lessons from these “unhappy events” and then put them behind them to “faithfully discharge the duties of a member of the Garda Síochána with fairness, integrity, regard for human rights, diligence and impartiality, upholding the constitution and the law and according equal respect to all people”, in accordance with their solemn declaration under section 16 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

With reporting by Michelle Hennessy

More: Bailieboro locals say it was resources they needed, not enquiries

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