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Criticism after gardaí send letters to offenders apologising for not progressing prosecutions

Gardaí confirmed that 6,331 letters of apology have been sent to “individual victims”.
Oct 31st 2019, 7:37 AM 26,961 35

GARDAÍ HAVE CONFIRMED they have sent letters to offenders apologising for failing to progress their prosecutions and for precluding the offenders from availing of supports aimed at their rehabilitation.

A review of the Garda youth diversion scheme earlier this year, identified almost 8,000 reported crimes by more than 3,000 children had gone unpunished, and, following this, Garda letters of apology were sent to the alleged victims.

However, it’s emerged Garda letters of apology have also been sent to some offenders.

Michael Murray, a respected lawyer in Limerick who served as State solicitor for the city from 1980-2017 has criticised the measure as “political correctness gone mad”.

Gardaí confirmed the letters included a helpline for offenders should they have wanted to access available support services.

“Each case subject to the remit of the Youth Diversion Review was reviewed by the relevant District Officer in the area where the offence occurred,” A Garda spokesperson said. 

“Where it was deemed appropriate a letter was issued to an offender informing them that their case was not progressed appropriately, together with an apology for this organisational failing and any potential impact which precluded them from availing of certain services which are afforded to individuals within the Criminal Justice System,” they said.

“They were also provided with details of a helpline where further details of information and support services were available.”

Gardaí said they were “unable to accommodate” a request by this journalist for a redacted copy of one of the letters.

When asked how many letters had been sent to offenders, a Garda spokesman replied: “Work in this area is still ongoing. A further breakdown of figures is not available at this time.”

Gardaí confirmed that 6,331 letters of apology have been sent to “individual victims” and 891 letters have been sent to “commercial victims”.

‘Political correctness gone mad’

Murray, said a “well informed source” had informed him that the letters “apologised to the criminals for not dealing with them appropriately, and allowing them to escape the net”.

“I understand a lot of time and effort went into ascertaining how many of these cases exit and addressing this problem, which really isn’t a problem, in my view,” Murray said.

He argued the letters were “indicative of an over-emphasis on compliance” by Garda headquarters.

“I have a sense now that management from HQ and the new regime are very heavy handed, and that there’s too much stick and not enough carrot to bring about the changes that are quiet clearly needed,” Murray said.

He agreed there needed to be changes in how the force conducts itself, but criticised  Garda Commissioner Drew Harris’s “style” of implementing these changes.

He said that, in his opinion, Commissioner Harris was beating the force with a stick instead of using a carrot to “embrace” the new way forward.

“It’s a question of style. The best managers implement change by encouragement and by reward. Changes that are made using the stick, only cause resentment to fester and moral to decline,” he said.

“And, it’s also very damaging to the Garda’s psychic, and the discretion that a Garda would use if the regime over-emphases the stick – then the Garda will say I’m only going to do what I have to do’.”

“A sort of work to rule mentality develops whereby the Garda will say ‘if you want rules, okay we’ll work to rule, but if you encourage us to change then we will change and embrace it’,” he added.

Murray said Gardaí have complained to him “the level of compliance work that they have to do now has inhibited their discretion” and that, “the time and energy they have to expend to compliance work, is detracting from the real nuts and bolts of the job”.

“It is sucking the energy out of the system,” he added.

Murray acknowledged “there has to be an element of compliance work”, but, he argued, “the problem seems to be that the management are insisting on unnecessary, superfluous compliance work, as exampled by the (letters).

“It’s one thing to be writing to the victims (of crime) but to be writing to the offender telling him ‘we’re sorry we didn’t deal with you properly’ – that seems to be political correctness gone mad”,” Mr Murray said.

A spokesman at the Department of Justice and Equality said it “is aware of the serious issues which arose in the handling of certain cases which had been deemed unsuitable for the Garda Youth Diversion Programme”.

They said the “Garda Commissioner has addressed these matters” and that the “Department is satisfied that An Garda Síochána is making every effort to address this matter and to ensure that there is no repetition of these failures”.

“It is important to note that these issues did not involve any negative implications for the effectiveness of the Youth Diversion Programme itself, which is a valuable mechanism to help young offenders turn away from crime.”

“It is relevant to mention that the Department is working to prepare a new national Youth Justice Strategy. It is expected that the new Strategy will be published in draft form for public consultation by the end of this year and will be finalised in early 2020,” the justice spokesman said.

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