Review finds gardaí in Joan Burton Jobstown incident lacked ‘strategic direction’

Policing Authority questions senior Garda management about findings

Garda protect then tánaiste Joan Burton from anti-water charge demonstrators in 2014. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Garda protect then tánaiste Joan Burton from anti-water charge demonstrators in 2014. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

 

The policing operation around an anti-water charges protest in Jobstown, Dublin, in 2014 lacked “strategic direction” and risk assessments were not carried out, a report on the disturbance has found.

The then tánaiste and Labour TD Joan Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connell were trapped in a car for several hours as gardaí struggled to control the crowd.

The women were eventually switched to another vehicle. While high-profile prosecutions followed, including of Paul Murphy TD, a group of six protesters were acquitted. Other cases were discontinued.

Supt Finbar O’Brien last July began an internal review to establish what lessons could be learned from the incident. The review was completed last October.

The Policing Authority yesterday questioned senior Garda management about a summary of the findings made available to it.

The full report was submitted to the authority on Wednesday evening. Authority member Bob Collins told the Garda officers it was submitted so late it was “meaningless and useless” in informing yesterday’s meeting.

Court cases

The Garda is due to release a summary of the report next week. However, the section relating to the Garda’s presentation of evidence in the court cases is not completed because people were still before the courts.

Supt O’Brien said part of the review process would be completed and an addendum to the report would follow.

Mr Collins, the former director general of RTÉ, read the main findings contained in the summary report as he directed questions at the senior Garda management team appearing before the Policing Authority at Dublin Castle yesterday.

“The report says that once the incident began the Garda response lacked strategic direction,” Mr Collins said.

“The various tactical options did not appear to have been considered; that public order policing is not catered for in any sense adequately in policy terms.

“The communications to and from the communications centre gave little indication of any strategic direction of how the event was managed.”

Garda response

Mr Collins was concerned there were criticisms of the Garda response once the event began. He believed the Garda should be better able to respond to incidents that arose by surprise in the way the Jobstown event did.

Ms Burton had gone to Tallaght for the graduation of local women who had completed courses at An Cosáin Education Centre.

As she was leaving, protesters surrounded her car and delayed her and Ms O’Connell for three hours.

Gardaí did not expect any protest and so only a small number of members, under an inspector had been deployed.

Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin said yesterday the Garda was more focused at the time on policing protests around the installation of water meters at specific locations.

He said there was not the same focus on assessing, in wider terms, how public feeling towards water charges might manifest itself as it did in Jobstown on the day in question.

Policing Authority member, and former PSNI officer, Judith Crosbie noted senior Garda management at headquarters were not officially informed about the incident while it was under way.

She would have expected that to happen and that failure, to pass on word of Ms Burton being surrounded in her car, would have been “a career-defining moment” for whomever should have made senior management aware.

Also at the Policing Authority meeting yesterday, it emerged that a review of all homicides in the Republic between 2003 and 2017 would not be completed as quickly as previous indicated.

Last week senior Garda management said the review would take about “five to six months”.

However, the Policing Authority was told yesterday that the first section of the process, involving the review of data including postmortems and Garda Pulse records, may be completed by September.But a second stage, which will test the quality of investigations carried out into each homicide, would then follow. No time frame has been put on that section of the review.