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A shocking, sobering report leaked and then selectively reported upon by our national media

Some apologies are now in order. And they aren’t the ones you’ve heard about, writes Tom Clonan.

THE FINAL REPORT of the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation into ‘Certain Matters relative to the Cavan/Monaghan Division of An Garda Siochana’ runs to 362 pages – including appendices.

In relative terms it is a short report consisting of 14 chapters.

In absolute terms, it is a shocking indictment of the management and leadership and oversight of An Garda Síochána.

The report has been leaked and selectively reported upon for the last number of days in our national media.

Garda Commemoration Niall Carson Niall Carson

Many journalists and commentators have focused on the implications of the report for former Minister Alan Shatter and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

This is understandable given the high news value attaching to the ongoing political drama associated with their respective resignations and retirements.

The O’Higgins report however is a far more significant document in terms of what it tells us about the administration of justice and the culture of policing in one division within the Irish Republic.

Justice O’Higgins conducted his investigation over 34 days – hearing the evidence of 97 witnesses. The narrow scope of the enquiry was set out by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Statutory Instrument, No. 38 of 2015.

Confined by SI No. 38 in terms of the range and scope of his enquiry, Justice O’Higgins, to coin a phrase, did ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ and conducted a forensic scrutiny of 10 samples of the investigative conduct of members of An Garda Síochána within the Cavan/Monaghan Division and at more senior levels within the force.

The cases ranged from public order offences to assault, allegations of child pornography to attempts at child abduction and murder.

Consistent with the explicit recommendations of the Guerin Report – compiled by Senior Counsel, Sean Guerin – O’Higgins also reviewed the allegations of serious misconduct and incompetence among investigating Gardai raised by whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

PastedImage-9091 Bailieboro town. Bailieboro town.

The report makes for sobering reading.

Its findings are bleak and highlight a chaotic culture of astonishing misconduct and incompetence at many levels within the force.

In my view, it speaks of a demoralised and under-resourced organisation.

Within the 14 chapters of the report, there are 11 significant sets of conclusions.

The conclusions drawn are stark and repetitive. 

Phrases such as ‘the investigation was characterised by delay and error’ are interspersed with observations such as investigations marred by ‘delay and lack of effective supervision’.

Time and time again, the commission finds that victims of serious crime and ordinary members of the public were simply not served by An Garda Síochána.

Examples of O’Higgin’s frank, disturbing and wearyingly repetitive findings include the following.

Ms Browne underwent a harrowing experience and was entitled to have the matter dealt with competently and professionally by the gardaí. Unfortunately, as is evident from the finding of the commission set out above, her legitimate expectations in this regard were not met.

In another case, at conclusion 7.93, the commission observes: “Ms Cafolla was not served well by an Garda Siochana.”

Other comments include: “The victim was not well served in this investigation.”

With regard to the specific recommendations for investigation raised by Senior Counsel Sean Guerin around the concerns raised by Sergeant Maurice McCabe, the report states at one point that “the commission is left with the impression that there was a reluctance to deal with the complaint of Sergeant McCabe on its merits”.

Indeed, in the preface to the report, Justice O’Higgins makes specific reference to the level of cooperation given by gardaí.

At paragraph IX he states, “The commission is pleased to acknowledge the cooperation it received from all persons. However, the compliance with the obligation of making discovery by the gardaí was unsatisfactory.

The commission accepted the apology of the Commissioner for this… However, the manner in which such cooperation manifested itself was, on occasion, quite inadequate – the Commission expected better from An Garda Síochána.

On a positive note, the O’Higgins report certainly vindicates two particular individuals.

Garda whistleblower at committee hearing Brian Lawless Brian Lawless

First and foremost, it thoroughly and unambiguously endorses garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe. In a summative assessment of Sergeant McCabe, the report states the following:

Some people, wrongly and unfairly, cast aspersions on Sergeant McCabe’s motives; others were ambivalent about them. Sergeant McCabe acted out of genuine and legitimate concerns, and the commission unreservedly accepts his bona fides.
Sergeant McCabe has shown courage, and performed a genuine public service at considerable personal cost. For this he is due the gratitude, not only of the general public, but also of An Garda Síochána.
While some of his complaints have not been upheld by this commission, Sergeant McCabe is a man of integrity, whom the public can trust in the exercise of his duties.

Oddly, and disappointingly, this executive summary of Sergeant McCabe’s service to the state has gone unreported and unremarked by many journalists.

The findings of the report also clearly vindicate Senior Counsel Sean Guerin’s recommendation of a commission of enquiry into the serious allegations of garda misconduct and incompetence raised by Sergeant McCabe.

O’Higgins observes in his final conclusion that “the examination of the commission of the issues of management and resources showed that there were problems at many levels”.

The findings of the O’Higgins report do not speak of a culture of ‘corruption’ within an Garda Síochána but they do speak of endemic, systemic and systematic failures of supervision, leadership and oversight within.

This is not the fault of individual gardaí and officers within the organisation. The issues raised in the O’Higgins report have been raised repeatedly by all of the garda representative organisations in the last number of years.

What we need now is a root and branch audit – similar to the O’Higgins report – of all garda divisions within the Republic.

By prompting this commission of investigation, both Maurice McCabe and Sean Guerin have both done the state some considerable service.

In the meantime, some apologies are in order. And they aren’t the ones you’ve heard about.

Many victims of serious crime are owed an apology from the Minister for Justice arising from the report’s findings.

In turn, all Irish citizens – and An Garda Síochána itself – are owed the type of investment in policing and the independent oversight of the administration of justice that is enjoyed in other member states of the European Union.

Dr Tom Clonan is a former Captain in the Irish armed forces. He is a security analyst and academic, lecturing in the School of Media in DIT. You can follow him on Twitter here.   

More: How can you have good policing in a ‘deplorable’ garda station full of trainees?

Read: Bail, brown envelopes and botched interviews: The victims behind garda malpractice

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