22 November 2001
Donegal case shows need for policing reform in this State
Speaking in the Dáil debate on 21 November on the case of the McBrearty family of Donegal, Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caolain said:
I fully support the call for a public inquiry into the conduct of the Garda Síochána in County Donegal since the mid 1990s. Such is the scope and seriousness of the issues raised in this motion that they challenge not only the conduct and management of the gardai in County Donegal but also at a State level. And they challenge the stewardship of the Department and Minister of Justice over those years.
It may be that only a small number of gardai were directly involved in the sinister events which have come to light since the death of Richie Barron in Raphoe in 1996. But clearly those activities could not have continued without the knowledge of many more within the force both in Donegal and outside it.
At the core of this scandal is the attempted frame-up of Frank McBrearty junior for the murder of Richie Barron. This involved a forced and false confession and the arrest of other members of the McBrearty family and a catalogue of harassment against the McBreartys and others over a long period.
One of the most notable features of this case is the internal Donegal Garda division circular of 27 February 1998 signed by Superintendent Denis Fitzpatrick. It referred to ``attempts to discredit gardai from this division and other members involved in the Barron investigation''. It went on:
``There is information to hand which suggests that Frank McBrearty (Snr) from Raphoe?is financing a campaign to discredit members of the force?Members of your district force and gardai who have assisted in the investigation into the Richie Barron death should be notified of the matter and directed to report any incidents or unusual contact that may occur either with Mr McBrearty or his extended family. This document is for garda use only and is confidential.''
In a letter to lawyers for the McBrearty family a senior garda officer said he was not aware of the existence of such a circular. But gardai later informed Donegal District Court that the circular did indeed exist. It gives an extraordinary insight into the thinking of gardai involved in this case. If this was what was committed to paper we can well imagine the attitiude that prevailed in the privacy of the garda station.
The case of Strabane man Edward Moss was also remarkable. He made a personal injury claim against the McBreartys and won a substantial out of court settlement. But he was then pressurised by gardai to take an assault case against Frank McBrearty junior. Mr. McBrearty was acquitted but Edward Moss's solicitor, John Fahy, later had to write to gardai to ask them to stop harassing his client to make further statements. John Fahy told Magill magazine in September 2000 that he had stopped taking cases in the Donegal courts because of garda conduct. He said:
``Gardai were intimidatory to me as an extension of the client. I accepted that situation prevailed in the North but I had expected more from the Gardai in the South. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I'd rather take my chances in a Northern court.''
The huge questions raised about the gardai in Donegal and any future inquiry must, I believe, also encompass the garda investigation into the murder of my party colleague, Councillor Eddie Fullerton, a Sinn Fein member of Donegal County Council who was murdered in his home in 1991. The Fullerton family have raised concerns about the role of the gardai in that case - surely a very grave matter, given the indications that the murder involved collusion by British forces.
The McBrearty case shows that gardai were acting with total impunity in County Donegal. They used the draconian powers available to them under the Offences Against the State Act for nefarious purposes and nobody held them accountable. Such was the regime that prevailed that certain gardai were able to set up bogus arms finds in order to further their own careers within the force.
This case shows the need for the reform of policing in this State. There needs to be fundamental reform of the gardai, with a totally independent complaints procedure, the disbandment of the Special Branch and the repeal of the Offences Against the State Act. The government cannot with credibility call upon the British government to transform justice and policing in the Six Counties when it so clearly has failed to keep its own house in order.
The Minister has kicked this issue into touch. He hopes that it will be buried until after the general election. But a public inquiry must and will be held sooner or later. Let the truth be told.
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