Minister defends Garda role in du Plantier case

 

The Garda file on the murder in Cork of the French woman, Ms Sophie Toscan du Plantier, could not be handed over to the French authorities without "seriously prejudicing the investigation itself," the Minister for Justice told the Dail.

"There is a difference between French and Irish law in relation to this matter," Mr O'Donoghue said. "There is no possibility, without prejudicing the investigation itself or the possibility of a subsequent successful prosecution, whereby the Irish authorities could hand over the file or very sensitive information in the file," he told Fine Gael's Justice spokesman, Mr Jim Higgins.

Ms du Plantier was murdered at her holiday home in West Cork in December 1996. There has been considerable controversy about the conduct of the investigation, and the response to requests for information by the family and the French authorities.

Mr Higgins had asked for details of the Minister's meeting in December with Ms du Plantier's family. He asked if Mr O'Donoghue apologised to the family for "the failure to co-operate fully with the French authorities." He added, "All they were asking really is to be kept up to date."

The Mayo TD believed that "tremendous damage has been done to our international reputation, that the details of this have been splashed across the international press."

Mr Higgins also asked if the Minister apologised for the fact that the victim's husband learnt of his wife's death on French television and that the body was lying in a laneway for 36 hours.

Mr O'Donoghue replied that he "certainly did not" apologise to the family regarding the investigation itself, because "the gardai are doing everything they possibly can to bring this matter to a conclusion."

The Minister met Ms Marguerite and Mr Georges Bouniol, Ms du Plantier's parents, in Bantry on December 22nd. He said he expressed regret to the family regarding notification of the death and the pathologist's not arriving for some 24 hours.

Mr O'Donoghue said the Garda did follow the correct procedures about notifying the family, but the murder was reported in the French media very quickly.

He said he explained to the family that legal advice had been sought regarding a "letter of request" from the French authorities. Essentially they were seeking the Garda investigation file.

A formal response was sent to the French authorities the day after his meeting with the family. The Attorney General had advised that it would not be proper to hand over the file as requested "while a decision was pending on a prosecution in this jurisdiction.

"Comments in the media are obviously something over which I have no control," Mr O'Donoghue stressed. He said that very often the situation had been discussed out of context, and with "total disregard for what is Irish criminal law.

"Various statements have been made by various people - I cannot be responsible for those statements. I am answerable and accountable to this House in relation to the Garda. The gardai are doing everything they can to try and bring this matter to a conclusion.

"The members of the family appreciated this and understood that the gardai were doing everything they could to resolve the matter.

"Every effort is being made to try and bring the perpetrator or perpetrators of this horrific crime to justice. That will continue to be the case," he concluded.