Reforms over garda informers proposed


Sweeping reforms of handling of garda informers are to be introduced in a bid to root out fake agents, it emerged today.

In a radical move to address the corruption and negligence in An Garda Siochana uncovered by the Morris Tribunal, would-be agents will be subjected to extensive vetting.

The measures, proposed by a working group headed by Deputy Commissioner T.P. Fitzgerald, were designed to ensure informers' safety, smoother handling operations and better understanding of the value, or lack of value, of covert information.

It is hoped the Code of Practice, drawn up after months of extensive international research, will guarantee the best agent handling systems anywhere in the world. In a submission to the Morris Inquiry, the informant management working group recommended:

  • Detailed source handling units to be created dedicated to running informers.
  • A compulsory and rigid system of registration of informers by every officer along with a full and detailed assessment of the proposed agent.
  • A full and detailed background and risk assessment, and if needed a face-to-face interview with the would-be informer.
  • A separate and complete file containing all records and dealings with informers to be kept by the Crime and Security Unit in Phoenix Park.
  • A superior officer to keep a high level of supervision on dealings and relationship of officers with the informer.

The recommendations were made to the Tribunal following a string of alarming findings of how gardai in Donegal dealt with informers during the early 1990s. In his report Judge Morris revealed there was no official garda manual governing the handling of informers in the force.

Mr Fitzgerald, who has headed nine working groups set up in the wake of the first report of the Tribunal, stated that while the findings of the inquiry had been accepted by his superiors implementing them would take time.

Policing experts from Canada, Australia, UK, Germany and Europol were approached in a bid to draw up a best practice model. And the working group insisted improved facilities were needed both at garda headquarters in Phoenix Park and at training colleges if the radical changes were to be fully implemented.

They recommended Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy appoint a senior officer to carry out an annual review of operations while a High Court judge should also be hired to conduct a yearly independent review.

A modern training network was proposed to highlight the dangers of running agents while the group called for a National Central Source Unit (NSCU) to be formed to manage informant handling and ensure best practice.

It is proposed the NSCU will maintain close contact with local supervising officers and handlers while giving feedback to officers on the ground on the value, or lack of value, of information.

The final report of the working group was sent to Mr Conroy at the end of April.