Deletion on Corrib tape 'inadvisable', says university

 

NUI MAYNOOTH has said that deletion of college research material from a camcorder recording, which is the subject of a continuing Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission investigation, was “inadvisable”.

However, the university said it was “satisfied” that the “individuals concerned” – including academics at the college – were “acting out of concern for student welfare” and a “genuine belief that the particular material deleted was not relevant to the inquiry”.

“Confidentiality of a research record that was unrelated to the specific incident” was also a concern of the “individuals”, the college said in a statement yesterday.

It was responding to an interim report by the Garda ombudsman into remarks made by members of the Garda serving in Mayo about two women arrested at a Corrib gas protest on March 31st last.

The five gardaí were in a vehicle at the time of the inadvertent recording on a camcorder confiscated from one of the two women after their arrest.

The camcorder was the property of the college and was on loan to postgraduate student JerrieAnn Sullivan for research.

Some time after the camcorder was returned to the two women on release without charge, it was discovered that a conversation of about 40 minutes between several gardaí had been recorded.

When this was publicised by Shell to Sea, it elicited widespread criticism, five gardaí were confined to office duties and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan issued an apology.

The ombudsman initiated an investigation on April 5th in the public interest.

Its interim report was published on Thursday by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

A transcript from the camcorder examined by the ombudsman upholds the allegations that several gardaí joked about threatening to rape and deport one of the women, joked about enlisting the support of the Garda National Immigration Bureau to harass them and made other “inappropriate” comments.

The five gardaí will not face criminal charges and three have been exonerated. Two gardaí are still under investigation by the ombudsman for possible disciplinary issues.

The ombudsman’s report expresses concern about lack of co-operation and says six files had been deleted from the camcorder.

Maynooth academic Dr Bríd Connolly, one of three staff supervising the master’s course on which Ms Sullivan is registered, confirmed that this corresponded to a one-hour interview on March 12th that Ms Sullivan had conducted in north Mayo, where she had given undertakings of confidentiality to participants.

Dr Connolly said the college had asked the Garda ombudsman to supervise deletion of this interview for reasons related to ethical guidelines and confidentiality, but when negotiations broke down, several academics agreed to support its deletion.

The deletion occurred on the night of April 13th-14th, before the camcorder was given by the college to the ombudsman.

The report said that “regrettably, the level of co- operation provided to the investigation by a number of persons, including some individuals associated through academic links with the two women, has been unsatisfactory”.

Its view was that issues arising in relation to “obstruction” would require further consideration.

The ombudsman told The Irish Times it would not comment on the college’s statements as the investigation was continuing.

The college said it had read the interim report and that it “prioritises the safety and welfare of its staff and students at all times.

“It also upholds and supports the process of statutory bodies and complied fully with its obligations in relation to this investigation.

“The university is of the view that the deletion of material from the tape was inadvisable,” it said.

“It is nonetheless satisfied that the individuals concerned were acting out of a concern for student welfare, out of a genuine belief that the particular material deleted was not relevant to the inquiry and with a view to preserving the confidentiality of a research record that was unrelated to the specific incident.”

Sr Majella McCarron, a third-level supervisor and leader of the Table human rights group, said there was a very strong framework governing confidentiality of research interviews.