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Irish Independent: Gripes against gardai to rise under watchdog: ‘complaints… by the Shell to Sea campaigners…’

Published: May 09, 2007

THE number of complaints against gardai is expected to treble in the next year.

The anticipated upsurge in complaints is due to the setting up of the independent Garda Ombudsman Commission, which became operational from midnight.

The outgoing Garda Complaints Board receives about 1,300 a year. But, on the basis of trends in other police jurisdictions in Europe, the commission expects the annual total to reach around 4,000.

Commission members say the number elsewhere averages out at around one for every three members of the police force.

The commission, which was launched officially yesterday by Tanaiste and Justice Minister Michael McDowell, will begin receiving complaints this morning.

The first substantial batch of complaints is expected to be lodged this afternoon by the Shell to Sea campaigners, who have been critical of the policing of their protests at Shell’s proposed refinery site at Bellanaboy since October last year.

Prosecutions

One of the Rossport Five, Philip McGrath will present their complaints to the ombudsman at the commission’s headquarters at Upper Abbey Street in Dublin.

Campaigners have already raised the issue with the Complaints Board and taken private prosecutions in court against named gardai.

Commission chairman Mr Justice Kevin Haugh said he expected his staff to be able to investigate between 150 and 200 complaints at a time.

Its 46 investigative staff will have most of the powers available to gardai including the right to raid garda stations, question, search, arrest, detain, take bodily samples and seize evidence.

But they will not have the garda powers under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act, which allows detention without charge in certain circumstances for up to seven days, or to intercept packages or telephone calls.

Detain

Staff, however, can detain people for up to a week if they are investigating suspected drug trafficking.

The commission’s staff have been recruited from a variety of backgrounds and include former police officers in the UK, South Africa, Malta, Australia, and New Zealand.

In normal circumstances it will be confined to examining complaints about incidents that have taken place in the previous six months.

But in special cases it can extend the period, depending on consideration of whether those cases have been examined earlier, if a new investigation would be fruitful and the cost involved.

The timelimit can also be extended if it was felt that an investigation would be in the public interest.

Gardai may be involved in some inquiries but in cases involving death or serious harm to a person as a result of garda operations, or while in the custody or care of the gardai, all investigations will be carried out by commission staff.

The director of investigations is Paul Buschini, a former detective superintendent in Lancashire. His deputy is Ray Leonard, who formerly worked with the Competition Authority.

Tom Brady

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