Former UN assistant secretary- general Denis Halliday has proposed establishing a citizens' commission to investigate the Garda Síochána under the aegis of President Michael D Higgins.
Mr Halliday, who was addressing a seminar hosted by justice and peace group Afri in north Mayo yesterday, said such a commission could fit in with Mr Higgins's nationwide ethics initiative established earlier this year.
The commission should comprise a representative panel of citizens, and should avoid involving members of the Oireachtas or judiciary, current or retired, or solicitors, Mr Halliday said.
Speaking at the Afri Airing Erris seminar in Carrowteigue, Co Mayo, which received a message of support from South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mr Halliday said the issues raised by Corrib policing, and the severe damage of public trust in the Garda Síochána generally, suggested that a broader domestic examination of the force was required.
A citizens’ commission would examine rights and responsibilities, the issue of training and resourcing gardaí involved in a “tough job”, and would also look at “our own intolerance to social justice”, Mr Halliday said.
Gardaí "could not be held responsible for implementing Government policy", and Ireland's police force compared favourably to "very unattractive" aspects of policing abroad, he said, citing examples in North America, Kenya, the Middle East and Asia.
Journalist Gemma O’Doherty told the seminar that this was a “very dangerous time” to be a whistleblower attempting to hold the Garda Síochána to account, and there were “dark forces” still trying to undermine the work of former garda John Wilson and serving Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe.
The main purpose of good journalism was to hold power to account, but there were still sections of the Irish media “shamelessly trying to blacken whistleblowers”, she said.
The “disgraceful” reporting of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission bugging controversy was an example of this, she said.
Some journalists had forgotten that their role was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”, she added.
The qualities of dogged determination, tenacity and “rat-like cunning” had been replaced in some cases by a “tamer journalism”, and today’s reporters were “expected to play the role of the diplomat”, she noted.
The former Irish Independent senior features writer, who is currently taking three legal actions, recalled the series of events that led to her losing her job last August.
Former gardaí Benny McCabe and John Wilson, along with Rossport farmer Willie Corduff, appealed to members of the Garda Síochána who had been assigned to police the Corrib gas project to speak about what had occurred.
“I believe there are good gardaí,” said Mr McCabe, who has worked abroad as a human rights observer with the UN and with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe since he left his post in Garda headquarters.
He said, like Willie Corduff, he was appealing to “those gardaí who have a conscience and who know what went on, to speak, and I am willing to talk to them confidentially”.
Mr Corduff was hospitalised in April 2009, after an overnight protest in Glengad, when gardaí and Shell security were in the vicinity.
Also contributing to the seminar was artist and activist Margaretta D’Arcy, who drew parallels between the protests at Shannon Airport over US military use and the deployment of gardaí to north Mayo.
She recalled that during her time in custody and in prison, gardaí had spoken to her about their own suffering within the force and their feeling that there was “no control”.
Archbishop Tutu is among signatories to an Afri petition calling for an independent inquiry into policing of the Corrib gas project, which was read by actor Donal O’Kelly.
The Garda Síochána was not invited to send a representative to yesterday’s event, Afri confirmed.