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Irish Times Corrib Gas articles: 25 April 2012

The Irish Times – Three articles, all published on Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Camcorder strangest of Corrib incidents

LORNA SIGGINS

ANALYSIS : THE Corrib gas controversy has been marked by flashpoints, but none more extraordinary than that which occurred on March 31st of last year.

On that date, NUI Maynooth postgraduate student Jerrie Ann Sullivan was one of two women arrested near Glengad for alleged public order offences, and released later from Belmullet Garda station without charge.

Recording equipment, used by protesters, gardaí and private security, has become a type of armour in the long-running dispute. And so gardaí confiscated a camcorder which Sullivan had with her, but which she had borrowed from the university for her research. It was returned to the women on their discharge.

That night Sullivan discovered the camcorder had been left switched on and that it contained a new 37-minute exchange.

In the ensuing publicity storm, the Garda Ombudsman initiated a public interest investigation. A separate Garda investigation was conducted by Supt Gearóid Begley of Tuam division and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan issued an apology.

Public comments ranged from condemnation by the National Women’s Council of Ireland to Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte’s comments that the remarks were “unedifying”. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter accused protesters of “exploiting” the situation and expressed his full confidence in policing at Corrib.

However, with a bill of at least €14 million and a series of complaints with the ombudsman, policing in Erris has not been the happiest experience for the force since it was deployed there on the resumption of work at the Corrib gas terminal in autumn 2006.

There have been 121 complaints lodged with the ombudsman since May 2007 about various aspects of policing, according to figures up to December 2011. Of these 36 have been deemed inadmissible, but 85 were admitted. Seven files were forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions, resulting in no prosecutions. One recommendation of disciplinary action over a senior garda’s handling of a protest at Pollathomas in 2007 has not been acted upon by the Garda Commissioner to date.

Some 80 files are closed and five “open”, according to 2011 figures. The Garda Ombudsman has confirmed that two of its investigators who worked on Corrib cases have returned to New Zealand, but says their departure has no connection with this work.

In 2007, the ombudsman unsuccessfully asked then minister for justice Brian Lenihan for a review of policing policies and practice at Corrib. A report by FrontLine human rights defenders two years ago recommended this request be submitted again, in the light of serious concerns about policing. This has not occurred to date.

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Ombudsman says garda should face disciplinary case over comments

CARL O’BRIEN, Chief Reporter

THE GARDA Síochána Ombudsman Commission has recommended disciplinary proceedings be taken against one of the gardaí who was investigated over taped remarks about two female Corrib gas protesters last year.

In a report published yesterday, it found that a second garda – a sergeant – who spoke about raping the women had since retired from the force and was not subject to disciplinary proceedings. Three other gardaí present at the time of the remarks were exonerated in an interim report last July.

Under disciplinary regulations, the Garda Commissioner has a number of options available to him including a warning, reprimand or reduction in pay.

The ombudsman initiated its investigation in April last year after the release of a digital recording in which several gardaí joked about threatening to rape and deport one of two women arrested on public order offences near the Corrib gas project.

A camcorder confiscated from the protesters had been left switched on in a garda’s jacket pocket.

An interim report issued last year confirmed the recording had taken place when five gardaí were travelling in a vehicle separate to that transporting the two female protesters to Belmullet Garda station in Co Mayo.

This report found no evidence of a criminal offence by any of the five. However, it found that two of them may have had a disciplinary case to answer over comments they made.

Yesterday’s report states that four of the gardaí confirmed their sergeant had used the word “rape” on a number of occasions. A second member of the force was identified as making comments about the women being deported and implying that they may be carrying a disease after staying in the “crusty camp”.

The report also referred to a dispute between the ombudsman and members of staff at NUI Maynooth in relation to deleted files on the camcorder.

After being requested to hand over the camcorder to the ombudsman, one of the protesters – identified by staff as postgraduate student Jerrie Ann Sullivan – said the device also contained confidential information relating to her studies.

Through a solicitor, she suggested that files could be deleted by someone from the university – under the supervision of the ombudsman – prior to handing over the device.

However, the ombudsman warned that any level of interference with the camcorder had the potential to render the recorded evidence inadmissible.

Academic staff at the university subsequently deleted the files, claiming they had no bearing on the investigation.

The ombudsman later interviewed a member of staff under caution in relation to possible offences of attempting to pervert the course of justice. However, the ombudsman decided not to send a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Overall, the ombudsman’s report states that the events in Co Mayo were very public and had the potential to “undermine public confidence in the Garda Síochána” and hoped the report would bring some comfort to those affected.

It says it was conscious that “events such as these can be a cause of distress” and hoped yesterday’s report would bring some measure of comfort to those affected. “The Ombudsman Commission offers its reassurance to the public and to serving gardaí that proportionate and fair investigation of events such as this is conducted in an independent manner, in the public interest,” the report states.

It also welcomed a pledge by the commissioner last year that all victims of sexual crime would be met with compassion and sensitivity.

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Past cases suggest disciplinary action unlikely to follow

CONOR LALLY, Crime Correspondent

ANALYSIS: ON THE basis of what’s gone before, the only garda involved in the so-called rape tape incident against whom sanction has been recommended has little to worry about.

In the estimated 20 cases where the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has recommended disciplinary action against members of the force for their roles in policing the Shell to Sea protests, none has been acted upon.

The commission has the power to investigate complaints against gardaí using two routes.

It can pursue a criminal route, during which alleged criminal wrongdoing can be probed and files sent to the DPP recommending prosecution.

For more minor allegations it goes down the disciplinary route. Gardaí alleged to have breached disciplinary regulations can be investigated, with recommendations sent to the Garda Commissioner that the member be disciplined.

However, under both forms of investigation the commission’s powers stop short of being the sanctioning body. It is the DPP who decides if gardaí should face charges and the courts that impose sanction.

Under the disciplinary route, it is up to the Garda Commissioner to decide what sanction, if any, will be imposed.

Since the ombudsman commission’s inception five years ago, its disciplinary recommendations on gardaí policing Corrib have always been ignored by the commissioner.

Very early in the “rape tape” inquiry, three of the five gardaí present when the contentious comments were made were cleared of wrongdoing because they did not utter the comments.

This left only one member of garda rank and one of sergeant rank facing investigation. The sergeant has since retired from the force early and, as such, is now beyond the reach of disciplinary sanction. The commission has recommended that sanction be taken by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan against the garda.

Many senior officers believe that the morale of those policing the Corrib protests would be dealt a serious blow if headquarters disciplined any of those gardaí.

They apparently believe the possibility of criminal prosecution represents a sufficient deterrent and sanction.

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