Ukrainian refugees in Ireland to be interviewed over Russian war crimes

Evidence to be used as part of potential International Criminal Court prosecutions

Ukrainian refugees in Ireland are to be interviewed about atrocities they may have witnessed in the hope of bringing prosecutions in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

According to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, plans are being put in place to take statements from Ukrainians about potential war crimes once they are settled here.

The process will be based on a similar initiative taking place in Germany. The ICC announced last month it is investigating Russian for war crimes committed during the six week old invasion.

Ukrainian authorities says they have uncovered extensive evidence of atrocities and mass killings which were carried out by Russia forces as they withdrew from occupied areas.

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Speaking at the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (A) annual conference in Kerry, the Minister said the first priority is to make sure refugees get to Ireland safely. “Then we can reach out to them and gather that information. And once we have that information we can feed it back to the ICC.”

Around 21,000 refugees have now arrived into the country from Ukraine. Of those, about 13,000 are being put up in State-provided accommodation.

Details of the scheme are yet to be finalised but it is believed gardaí will be involved in the process.

“If they want to tell their story, if they want to say what they have seen, that information will be absolutely vital and really crucial in bringing people to justice.”

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and senior officers have already met with officials from the ICC.

Separately, Ms McEntee said the Government is working on new legislation in response to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruling striking down the State’s data retention scheme.

The case, which was taken by convicted murderer Graham Dwyer, has now been referred back to the Supreme Court for interpretation. It is likely to boost Dwyer's chances of overturning his appeal, although legal sources believe he remains unlikely to be successful.

According to the ruling, the State’s mobile data retention law is overly broad and indiscriminate.

It is expected any replacement legislation will limit the amount of time telecoms companies will be obliged to retain data for use by gardaí.

Ms McEntee said she did not want to rush legislation and then have to revise it based on the Supreme Court judgment. That’s already happened in other countries, she said.

“So I can assure people that we are already working on legislation. Without seeing the final ruling it’s very hard to determine exactly what that will look like, but we need to strike the right balance here,” Ms McEntee said.

"I would say this, I don't think An Garda Síochána or any police force should have their hands tied behind their backs when it comes to fighting crime or putting criminals behind bars."

The Minister said it is important people’s privacy is respected but “at the same time we need to make sure that there’s no ability for individuals and criminals to hide behind that”.

The legislation will prevent convicted criminals from using the CJEU ruling to obtain a new trial. However it is highly unlikely to apply retrospectively, meaning it will not apply to the Dwyer case.

People have rights, the Minister said, “but sometimes we have to look at the fact that people’s privacy is not as important as detecting crime”.

Much of the AGSI conference is expected to focus on the adequacy of garda training. Members are unhappy domestic violence training is still being conducted online.

"I feel that victim centred training is much more appropriate in a blended situation or in a classroom setting," said Inspector Patricia Gill of Clondalkin Garda Station.

Ms McEntee agreed there is a need to move to in person training for domestic violence and sexual offences investigations.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times