Garda powers and accountability

 

Sir, – Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has described a proposed new regime for investigating wrongdoing by members of An Garda Síochána as “disproportionate”, “unconstitutional”, and “a breach of [a garda’s] human rights, as well as being incredibly stressful for them” (“Proposed Garda oversight powers are ‘unconstitutional’, Harris says”, News, October 20th).

Might I suggest that Mr Harris cast a similar cold eye on the Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill, published by the Government last June?

That Bill would make it a criminal offence, punishable with up to five years in prison, for a person to refuse to give gardaí the passwords for their phones and electronic devices in the course of a search of their home, before allowing them access to their solicitor.

It would also apply the same penalty to “any person present at the place where the search is being carried out” who doesn’t hand over the passwords of their phones and devices, for example the parents or spouse of a suspect, regardless of whether those persons are themselves suspected of criminal offences.

These proposals would amount to a staggering breach of the constitutional right to privacy and the presumption of innocence, as well as similar guarantees in the European Convention on Human Rights, and yet Mr Harris made no comment on the publication of that Bill. One must presume that he is content for those powers to be bestowed on his officers.

Does Mr Harris seriously believe that innocent citizens who are not even suspected of committing criminal offences should be subjected to a greater level of intrusion to their rights than members of An Garda Síochána who are being investigated for wrongdoing?

He can hardly expect the Garda Síochána to be granted extraordinary draconian powers over other citizens, and then protest that dramatically increased levels of oversight of those powers might also be expected in return. – Yours, etc,

THOMAS

RYAN, BL

Harolds Cross,

Dublin 6W.