Garda civilian staff at odds with Garda HQ over homicide investigations
Whistleblowers believe misclassification of some cases meant no homicide inquiry took place
Genuine differences in interpreting the cause of a fatal road-traffic crash may have resulted in a criminal investigation that was less serious than another senior Garda officer would have opted for. Photograph: Frank Miller
Like allegations made by all whistleblowers, in policing or any other field, the concerns expressed by two Garda civilian staff members about homicide cases must now be proven.
The Garda has conceded there are problems with the classification of some homicides. But it says the shortcomings are limited to how the homicides were entered on to the Garda’s Pulse database.
The force has insisted there were no such shortcomings with the investigation of those cases.
Under both Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin and former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, the Garda has repeatedly told the Policing Authority that in every single homicide case a homicide inquiry was carried out.
But two Garda civilian staff now allege otherwise. They believe a Garda analysts’ examination on homicides has found cases where a misclassification meant no homicide inquiry took place.
They also believe Garda headquarters was in a position to supply very comprehensive information on homicide misclassifications to the Policing Authority last year. Yet, say the two civilians, all of the information was not shared with the authority.
And because the two Garda civilian staff members became frustrated at what they saw as the lack of progress they were making by raising their concerns internally, they decided to take their allegations elsewhere.
They chose the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, taking that step two weeks ago.
The Department of Justice believes the Garda staff members’ disclosure to the Oireachtas committee does not meet the legal definition of a protected disclosure. In reality, that matters little.
Sgt Maurice McCabe also chose to take some of his concerns, around the cancellation of penalty points, to Dáil deputies. And in hindsight it amplified the complaints he was making.
The TDs he approached, for example, felt within their rights to raise his allegations in the Dáil; in front of journalists and television cameras and under Dáil privilege with no fear of legal reprisals.
The homicide-related allegations now being made – and they are just allegations for now – are very serious. If proven it would mean unlawful killings were never investigated in the manner that the severity of the crimes warranted.
That would be more serious than many recent Garda scandals, including the cancellation of penalty points or the inflation of alcohol breath-test data.
Extent of the problem
However, even if some of the allegations now being made are proven, the detail of each case must be known before the extent of the problem becomes clear.
Genuine differences in interpreting, for example, the cause of a fatal road-traffic crash may have resulted in a criminal investigation that was less serious than another senior Garda officer would have opted for.
For any family who had lost a loved one in such a crash to find out now, maybe years later, that the Garda could have or should have pursued serious criminal charges against the driver responsible would be extremely painful. But the senior officers in charge at the time may argue they made the best decision with the information they had available.
All eyes will be on the Policing Authority later this month when senior Garda management comes before it for a public discussion on the homicide issue.