Gardaí have lots in common with RUC
Gardaí have lots in common with RUC

By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)

Michael McDowell must love passing laws. He’s a man who always reaches for a sledgehammer when he sees a peanut. A new law seems to be his solution for everything. Laws about liquor licences, about minors in pubs, about immigrants and asylum seekers. He even had a referendum about them, laws about badly behaved teenagers. He’s probably passed more petty-fogging laws in his short time in office than any previous minister for justice. For a man bristling out there on the right of the political spectrum, who believes there should be minimum interference by the state in peoples’ lives, his record is one of petty interference anywhere he can in peoples’ lives.

He’s the hammer of republicans, makes them his bogey-men, he believes inequality is a good thing, a stimulant. He’s rough and tough. He faces down opponents. Except that is, when it comes to the gardai. He won’t take them on. For a year now one of his many bills has been making its way through the Oireachtas, An Garda Siochana bill, a bill carefully designed not to deal with the issues thrown up by the Morris tribunal’s second report published last Wednesday.

McDowell welcomed the report as he did Justice Morris’s first report last year but he ignored that one as he will ignore this one. Oh yes, there’ll be lots of huffing and puffing and he may sack the Donegal gardai Morris castigated. Or maybe not. Perhaps he’ll wait until the DPP decides whether to prosecute them. Then he can say: “Nothing to do with me mate.”

Morris gently pointed out in his report that he’d been asked to produce it as a matter of public urgency, yet although he’d managed, despite all the lying and obstruction by gardai, to get his first report out in July 2004, the Dail never debated it.

Now, a year later, he suggests it might be time to ‘consider’ his reports. He felt it necessary to repeat in full most of his recommendations, none of which have been passed into law despite the eagerness of McDowell to pass laws.

It’s obvious from Morris’s remarks that McDowell’s current bill is woefully inadequate to meet the tribunal’s core recommendations. Morris said he was “much concerned by the lack of any independent body to receive the legitimate concerns about garda behaviour”. He noted there is “no recorded incidence of an officer being held accountable for a breach of discipline”. McDowell has no intention of establishing an independent ombudsman for An Garda Siochana. He has no intention of creating a Garda Authority. Gardaí will still not be accountable. Indeed it requires an order from a circuit court to compel a garda to account for his actions.

McDowell intends to keep policing a closed book.

The minister for justice whose rhetoric concentrates on the misbehaviour of the poor, the young, the disadvantaged, looks set to sidestep what Morris describes as a ‘scandalous situation’ in the Republic’s police. Morris detailed “lack of proper management at senior level, corruption at middle level and a lack of review throughout the force”.

He pointed out that the sort of corruption that happened in Donegal not only could happen in other divisions but has happened.

People in the Republic are shocked, a bit like unionists here who had turned a blind eye to the awfulness of the RUC. Then, when Patten and later Stevens and O’Loan detailed RUC incompetence, ineptitude, sectarianism and collusion with loyalist terrorists, the response was denial.

Like the gardai now, the RUC was a totally unaccountable force, some of whose members literally got away with murder. In more than 30 years of the Troubles not one of the tens of thousands of people who served as RUC officers was convicted of any offence committed dealing with the communal strife.

It took the major political demarche of the Good Friday Agreement to begin to dismantle the shut and barred edifice of the RUC.

What will it take in the Republic? The answer is a lot more than the exposure of the attempt to convict the McBrearty family of a murder the Donegal gardai invented and the revelations of chaos, dishonesty and incompetence beyond imagination. Despite Patten and Stevens revealing that the RUC was even worse than nationalists claimed, unionists would never have taken the necessary action.

It seems Michael McDowell, for all his bluster, is taking the same attitude as unionists here about the RUC.

A few bad apples. What do they do to the whole barrel?

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