“It would be a question of the utmost public concern if an undercover officer were effectively permitted to operate without justification, authorisation or oversight in Ireland.”
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL Ireland has expressed concern over an incident in north Mayo where a critic of the Corrib gas project had his car window broken and was threatened with pepper spray at a Garda checkpoint.
The Garda has declined to comment on the incident, which was referred yesterday to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. The incident occurred on February 22nd in Glengad, close to the worksite for the final phase of the Corrib gas project.
Glengad resident and member of Pobal Chill Chomáin community group John Monaghan was driving along the road close to his home at about 12.30pm, when he was stopped and two gardaí signalled to him to pull in.
Mr Monaghan has told The Irish Times he did not pull in as requested because he was not aware of any oncoming haulage traffic for the Corrib gas project, for which gardaí provide escorts.
The incident, which was taped on his video equipment, recorded Mr Monaghan asking “what’s the story?” several times.
Asked by the gardaí to roll down his window, Mr Monaghan replied he was unable to do so as the electronics on the window weren’t working. A third garda with an extendable baton approached him and repeated the request.
Mr Monaghan shouted through a closed window that the motor on the window was broken.
He told The Irish Times he was afraid to step out to explain this as the garda was “holding a baton”.
On the video recording, there was the sound of breaking glass as Mr Monaghan was heard remonstrating with the garda to “calm down”. Mr Monaghan said the garda banged on the window several times with the baton, and then broke the glass.
On the recording, Mr Monaghan was ordered out of his car and told: “I’m going to pepper spray you next.”
He was also informed that it was a legal requirement for him to produce his driving licence, and was told he was going to be arrested and taken to Belmullet Garda station to establish his identity.
Mr Monaghan has since said he produced his licence, and he was not arrested.
He lodged a complaint yesterday with the Garda ombudsman, in the company of Joe Murray of the Afri human rights group.
Commenting on the video footage of the incident, which has been posted on YouTube, Amnesty International Ireland executive director Colm O’Gorman said that “a basic principle of human rights and policing is that the use, or threat, of force should only be a last resort.
“Having examined the footage, it is hard to see how breaking Mr Monaghan’s window, threatening him with pepper spray and to ‘drag’ him out of his car fit with that, but more information is needed,” Mr O’Gorman said.
“We welcome the fact that this case has been referred to the Garda Ombudsman Commission and hope it investigates this thoroughly, as this is its job.”
Gardaí introduced “incapacitant” or pepper spray in 2008. Guidelines state that “every effort should be made to resolve conflict without resorting” to its use.
Amnesty International Ireland spokesman Justin Moran said use of pepper spray should be “strictly controlled. It should not be used to get non-violent protesters or individuals to comply with instructions”.
Recording equipment has been a feature of the Corrib gas protests since work began on the gas terminal at Ballinaboy, with gardaí, private security and campaigners all using it on a regular basis.
Mr Monaghan said he put recording equipment on the dashboard of his car last April for his own protection, and he said it was quite visible.