GSOC criticised over level of co-operation with Guerin
Failure of commission to provide documentation hindered investigation, report says
GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien: marshalling relevant material was under way”. Photograph: Eric Luke
The failure of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) to provide any documentation to senior counsel Seán Guerin resulted in him being unable to assess how it responded to allegations of malpractice and corruption made by a Garda whistleblower.
In the introduction to the final report, Mr Guerin criticised the GSOC for raising “preliminary legal and practical issues” to him on April 23rd, 2014, the day before his time period for completing his report.
He said it was regrettable and unfortunate that the commission was unable to hand over any documents, adding the GSOC was similar to both the Garda and the Department of Justice in that it did not heed the voice of a whistleblower.
He said that after requesting documentation, he received a letter from GSOC chair Simon O’Brien to say the process of “marshalling relevant material was under way as a priority”.
On March 26th, Mr Guerin wrote a reminder to the GSOC and referred to the very limited period of time available.
Tight time scale
A week later, on April 2nd, the GSOC wrote to say the relevant material had been identified and would be forwarded. On April 10th, Mr Guerin again wrote to the GSOC reminding it of the very tight time scale. He had eight weeks in total
to complete his report. On April 23th, Arthur Cox Solicitors wrote to Mr Guerin on behalf of the GSOC.
In his report, Mr Guerin said the solicitors raised “various preliminary legal and practical issues which might usefully have been raised at an earlier stage”. He said that though the letter expressed an eagerness to co-operate and referred to “voluminous” documents, he had not seen any of them.
“I do not understand why the obstacles to my seeing them were first identified to me in correspondence delivered shortly before the close of business on the eve of the date upon which my report was due.” He said there was no practical way of reviewing the documentation at that late stage.
“The papers I have seen suggest the approach adopted by GSOC was ultimately broadly similar to that of An Garda Síochána,” the Guerin report said. “The final disciplinary recommendation, however, was consistent with the Garda approach, ie that individual members of An Garda Síochána should bear responsibility for the conduct of their own investigations, regardless of their inexperience or the apparent want of direction or guidance from supervisors or management.
“While the independent investigative function that GSOC exercises is an important one in the public interest, it appears to be no guarantee of a different disciplinary outcome.”
In a statement issued last night, the GSOC said it was aware of the tight time scale but “was not aware of the exact fixed deadline date”. While it said it is “regrettable” the inquiry did not have sight of the GSOC’s files, it said it had marshalled a good deal of documentation which was available prior to the report being finalised but then sought “certain safeguards”
It did not set out why it only sought those safeguards on April 23rd, the eve of the completion date, rather than at the start of the process.
“The report is critical of some agencies and says that the same appears to be true of GSOC,” it said. “We would like to note in this regard that GSOC has met and corresponded with Sergeant McCabe. However, these meetings and correspondence always took place in the context of the fact that GSOC is expressly prohibited by the Garda Síochána Act (2005) from receiving complaints from serving Garda members.”
In his letter resigning as minister for justice, Alan Shatter said he was surprised the Garda ombudsman had not passed on documentation to the Guerin inquiry. He said complaints to the watchdog and how they were handled were relevant to the way he dealt with issues relating to Sgt Maurice McCabe.