“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.”
THE GARDA Síochána Ombudsman Commission is due to publish its final report early this week on taped comments made by gardaí about two female protesters arrested close to the Corrib gas project last year.
The final report has been sent to Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan under legislation which may or may not include a recommendation as to whether disciplinary proceedings should be instituted.
However, seven academics from NUI Maynooth (NUIM) have criticised the handling of the investigation, and have claimed that the Garda Ombudsman treated one of the two female protesters – NUIM postgraduate student Jerrie Ann Sullivan – as “the perpetrator, rather than the victim” in the inquiry.
The Garda Ombudsman initiated its public interest investigation on April 5th last year after the release of a recording in which several gardaí joked on tape about threatening to rape and deport one of two women arrested on public order offences near the Corrib gas project on March 31st last.
An interim report issued last July 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.
A camcorder confiscated from the protesters had been left switched on in a garda’s jacket pocket. The interim report exonerated three of the five gardaí and found no evidence of criminal offence by any of the five.
The Garda Ombudsman noted then that its final report would deal with possible “disciplinary issues” which “may arise in the case of two Garda members”.
One of those two gardaí has since left the force.
The confiscated camcorder, which was returned to the two women on their release, was the property of NUIM, and had been on loan to Ms Sullivan for research purposes at the time.
Seven NUIM academics say in a statement sent to the Garda Ombudsman that their student, Ms Sullivan, had been “subjected to lengthy and aggressive questioning” and had been “forced to take on substantial legal costs as a result”.
The academics also claim that two of the college’s staff were threatened with possible criminal prosecutions for alleged “tampering with evidence”.
NUIM academics had taken the decision at the time of the investigation to delete unrelated material from the camcorder in line with the university’s research ethics principles, and say they had invited the Garda Ombudsman to supervise this, but it declined.
The Garda Ombudsman subsequently referred in its interim report to an “unsatisfactory” level of co-operation by “some individuals associated through academic links with the two women”.
“Throughout the process, the Garda Ombudsman Commission has shown no ability to understand the researcher’s duty of confidentiality or the workings of modern video cameras,” the academics state.
“Their attitudes to the victims has been consistently hostile, recalling past treatment of the victims of sexual violence,” they state.
The academics describe Ms Sullivan as “a highly courageous and intelligent individual who has stood up for her ethical duty as a researcher as well as her principles as a citizen, at substantial personal cost”.
A Garda Ombudsman spokesman has declined to comment on the statement.
Its signatories are Dr Bríd Connolly, Dr Laurence Cox, Tony Cunningham, Fergal Finnegan, Dr Bernie Grummell, Dr Michael Murray and Dr Theresa O’Keefe, from NUIM’s adult and community education and sociology departments,
In a related development, RTÉ has confirmed it removed reports late last week from its website relating to the Corrib tape controversy which had been censured by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland last December. The reports had inadvertently migrated to a new server, according to an RTÉ spokeswoman, and the fault was “technical, rather than editorial”.