Watchdog’s role in homicides controversy to be examined

Oireachtas committee scrutinising response of Policing Authority to whistleblowers

The Policing Authority is to meet senior Garda management at a public meeting on Thursday week at which the force will be questioned about the homicides classification issue. Photograph: Alan Betson

The Policing Authority is to meet senior Garda management at a public meeting on Thursday week at which the force will be questioned about the homicides classification issue. Photograph: Alan Betson

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The role of the Policing Authority in the controversy around Garda homicide statistics is set to be scrutinised after allegations were made over its handling of the matter.

Two civilian Garda employees have made a protected disclosure alleging that some homicides committed in the State had not been classified properly and had not been investigated in a manner matching the offence.

They have also called into question the conduct of the authority when they initially approached it with their concerns.

They are dissatisfied at the pace with which the authority acted after they contacted it. They also believe senior Garda management learned of their approach to the authority, which they claim was confidential, and are seeking an investigation into how news of it became known in Garda Headquarters in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

The claims, which are as yet untested, are contained in a wider protected disclosure made to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice last month.

The two Garda civilian employees are also suggesting information, drawn by qualified data analysts, on the extent of homicide misclassifications, was available to the Garda as far back as late 2016.

They allege that was not passed on to the Policing Authority. They claim the authority was instead given a document drawn up by senior Garda management.

News of the protected disclosure and the main allegations contained in it emerged in The Irish Times two weeks ago. However, it was not known before now that the authority’s handling of it had also been called into question.

Informed sources said a number of designated members of the Oireachtas committee have been dealing with the two.

Strict procedures

Queries put to the authority about the sections of the protected disclosure relating to that agency were not responded to. However, a source said the authority had very strict procedures around protecting the confidentiality of any Garda member who approach it with information.

The same source said the authority would contest any suggestion that news of any confidential approach to the authority would be shared with third parties.

The authority is to meet senior Garda management at a public meeting on Thursday week at which the force will be questioned about the homicides classification issue.

Senior Garda management, led by acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin will appear before the Oireachtas committee tomorrow.

In September 2016, Garda analysts first began scrutinising how the force had been recording deaths in its official records. Concerns were raised internally with senior officers in Garda Headquarters in November 2016.

A perception emerged among some within the force that Garda management was failing to grasp the significance of the problems identified. The two people who made the protected disclosure first approached the Policing Authority about the matter last March. They told the authority the force had given it only partial information on the scale and nature of homicide misclassifications.

The authority has for almost a year pressed senior Garda management in public and private hearings for more information on homicide misclassifications.

It has expressed its frustration at the slow rate of progress. The two Garda civilians have also become frustrated and approached the Oireachtas committee last month.

The original research by Garda analysts identified deaths in the home and in road traffic crashes that should have been recorded as homicides but had been recorded as less serious offences.

Some of the domestic homicide cases had, for example, been recorded as non-fatal assaults.

Some of the road deaths that should have been classified as homicides were recorded as speeding or drink-driving cases.

Senior Garda management accept some errors were made with homicide classifications but they have insisted any death that should have been investigated as an unlawful killing was afforded a homicide investigation.

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