The difficult relationship between the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) and the Garda force has come under renewed strain following a serious dispute about the handling of a road traffic fatality which occurred during a Garda pursuit in north Dublin yesterday morning.
Senior officers in GSOC claim the incident was not formally referred to the organisation until 7.30am yesterday, some 5½ hours after it happened in Fairview, even though GSOC has 24-hour on-call arrangements for such referrals.
The fatal car crash occurred just before 2am.
Gardaí noticed a car reversing in the road as it approached a Garda checkpoint, arousing their suspicion. A Garda car followed it as it turned into a side street before driving on to Malahide Road, in the direction of Fairview. As it rounded the corner on to Fairview Strand, it went out of control and crashed into a tree and a lamp post.
A 43-year-old female passenger was taken by ambulance to the Mater hospital but died from her injuries. The 26-year-old male driver is critically ill in Beaumont Hospital and a 20-year-old male passenger is in a stable condition in St James's Hospital.
The crash scene was examined by Garda personnel, the car taken away and the street furniture made safe before the case was referred to GSOC in an apparent breach of protocols governing investigations into the death of any person at or around the time of being in contact with the Garda.
The only involvement gardaí should have in such cases is in referring them to the commission and preserving the scene pending the arrival of GSOC staff, including crash scene investigators.
A Garda member made contact by phone with an on-call GSOC investigator at about 5am and told him of the crash. An informed source said the call was made as a matter of courtesy and to inform GSOC the case did not require referral to it. However, the same GSOC staff member was contacted again at 7.30am, the sources said, this time for a formal referral. At about the same time the scene in Fairview was opened to traffic by gardaí and then closed again. It is unclear if the Garda personnel on the scene knew from the outset that the crashed car was being followed by a Garda car.
GSOC responded to the referral by having a team on site by 9am, by which time the crashed car and other pieces of evidence were gone. There were major traffic delays in the area at the time and the scene was reopened. Neither GSOC nor the Garda made any on-the-record comment yesterday.