"This is one of the most important stories of it's kind in Europe."
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.