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Warning issued by Garda watchdog over Corrib tapes

The Irish Times – Monday, October 31, 2011

LORNA SIGGINS, Western Correspondent

THE IRISH Federation of University Teachers has expressed serious concern about a warning of possible prosecution issued to an academic at NUI Maynooth by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

The warning relates to alleged “obstruction” of the Garda Ombudsman’s continuing inquiry into taped comments made by gardaí after a Corrib gas protest on March 31st last.

The federation’s general secretary Mike Jennings says that the Garda Ombudsman’s approach “illustrates the lack of protection for both bona fide researchers and journalists” in protecting sources.

It also “runs against any principle of open inquiry and transparency in a democratic society”, Mr Jennings said.

The warning was issued verbally by the Garda Ombudsman to NUIM lecturer Dr Bríd Connolly, following a decision by her to supervise deletion of material from a video camera which was sought by Garda Ombudsman officers investigating the Corrib tape incident. The academics at the centre of the case say the material was unrelated to the inquiry.

The video camera was university property, and had been on loan to postgraduate student Jerrie Ann Sullivan, who was one of two women arrested by gardaí at Glengad on March 31st last.

The video camera was confiscated by gardaí travelling in a separate car to that transporting the two women to Belmullet Garda station. They discovered taped material after the camcorder was returned to them on their release.

An interim Garda Ombudsman report into the incident, published on July 28th by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, said that the investigations’ transcript from the camcorder upholds the allegations the camera, still switched on, recorded gardaí joking about raping the women if they refused to give their name and address.

It also recorded them talking of “deporting” one of the women who was believed to be an American citizen, “enlisting the support of the Garda National Immigration Bureau to harass them and [making] other comments of an inappropriate nature”, the report said.

The interim report found no evidence of a criminal offence having been committed by any of the five gardaí subsequently interviewed, and no evidence of any breach of discipline by three of the gardaí.

It said that disciplinary issues “may arise in the case of two Garda members”, who were confined to desk duties after the investigation was initiated on April 5th last as a matter of public interest.

NUIM sociology lecturer Dr Laurence Cox, one of four university staff interviewed by the Garda Ombudsman, said that he was concerned about the situation where those who were victims in this case were now being “treated as perpetrators”.

Postgraduate student Ms Sullivan had been questioned for 4½ hours, he noted. Dr Connolly, who could not comment yesterday, was interviewed under caution.

Deletion of unrelated material only came about after two separate offers were made by the university to the Garda Ombudsman to agree on deletion by a neutral third party, Dr Cox said.

Ms Sullivan and her supervisors had a duty to abide by the university’s own research ethics principles and the ethical code of the Sociological Association of Ireland, he pointed out.

The Garda Ombudsman said it would not comment beyond confirming that the investigation was ongoing, and it was moving “as speedily as we can to a conclusion”.

NUI Maynooth referred yesterday to its statement of July 29th last when it acknowledged that deletion of college research material was “inadvisable”, but the “individuals concerned” were “acting out of concern” for student welfare, confidentiality of a research record, and a “genuine belief that the particular material deleted was not relevant to the inquiry”.

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