by Gordon Deegan
GARDA Commissioner Drew Harris has defended an ongoing investigation into members of the Limerick Garda Division after hearing a Government TD claim that it was “tearing many lives apart”.
Commissioner Harris told a meeting of the Clare Joint Policing Committee (JPC) in Ennis on Monday that he understands how a crime investigation is stressful for members of the force “but this work must be done”.
Asked to respond to comments made by Fianna Fáil Deputy Cathal Crowe on the impact the investigation into the alleged treatment by certain gardaí in the Limerick Garda Division of fixed charge penalties, Commissioner Harris said: “We must make sure that people can trust on An Garda Síochána to be entirely trustworthy and honest in their dealings with them.”
“Any of these investigations we undertake are essential for public confidence in the organisation but also that they are expedited and dealt with as quickly as possible.”
At the meeting, Deputy Crowe told Commissioner Harris that he has to move the investigation on “and needs to engage with this more effectively”.
Deputy Crowe said eight members of the force in Limerick have been suspended as part of an investigation by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (GNBCI) “concerning a charge of corruption against many in the Limerick Garda division”.
He claimed that 60 gardaí in Limerick are being investigated concerning the alleged ‘squaring off’ of fixed charge penalty notices.
Deputy Crowe told the meeting that the probe “encompasses too many people and is harrowing for the families involved”.
He told Commissioner Harris that many of the gardaí are young and unable to progress in their career or transfer back to the station in their home patch “because there is a cloud of suspicion hanging over them”.
“Like any judicial process, this needs to be speeded up. If they are guilty they need to be found guilty and they need to face the sanctions that are appropriate. But if they are not guilty, they need that chance to be before a court and to prove themselves.”
Deputy Crowe said: “This is tearing many lives apart and you, as Commissioner, need to engage with this more effectively.”
The Meelick-based TD said that if there was a culture in the past of a county hurling star or a politician being pulled over by a garda and maybe their fines were waived “that was wrong and I get the reason why An Garda Síochána want to curb that”.
On the issue of Garda discretion, Deputy Crowe said: “The reality was that for many years, gardaí were able to square off a charge for a road traffic offence, that seems to be gone now in the Limerick Garda division.”
Commissioner Harris said that he was constrained in what he could say in response to Deputy Crowe’s comments.
Commissioner Harris said that he took very seriously the comments concerning the expediting of the investigation.
He said that he is regularly updated on the investigation and told Deputy Crowe “I am personally engaged with these matters”.
Speaking generally, Commissioner Harris said that a process is in place where Fixed Charge Penalty Notices (FCPN) can be examined.
He said: “The difficulty is the difference between discretion and preference. I would say to every member of An Garda Síochána that properly exercised discretion is available to you but make sure that it is not preference.”
“Preference is unfair – everyone must be treated equally before the law.”
Asked what impact recent incidents putting gardaí in a negative light is having on the morale of rank and file members, Commissioner Harris said that he has a basic duty to ensure that the organisation conducts itself well and that people have confidence in members of An Garda Síochána in terms of their treatment of all members of the public.
“At the same time when you are a member of An Garda Síochána, it is very stressful to have colleagues that you work alongside that you have a doubt about.
“It is my responsibility to support the vast, vast majority of gardaí doing their job to make sure that they are not working alongside people whose standards are not at the required level,” the Commissioner declared.