In light of ongoing controversies concerning lack of accountability of the Gardaí, and serious shortcomings on the part of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), Afri, supported by the undersigned, wishes to draw renewed attention to serious concerns around the policing of the Corrib Gas Project. Local residents have exhausted all available means of redress – including reports to GSOC, the Minster for Justice and the Garda Commissioner – without receiving satisfactory responses. Therefore, we now call for an independent and comprehensive enquiry into all aspects of the policing of the Corrib Gas Project to seek redress and accountability in relation to abuses which are, sadly, ongoing.
These concerns include, for example, the verbal and physical abuse of Willie Corduff by Gardaí as he took part in a peaceful protest in Glengad on April 22nd and 23rd 2009.This was followed by an attack by a group of men in dark clothes with their faces covered. During this attack Mr. Corduff was struck on the head by a blunt leather-covered object and then beaten until he lost consciousness. Mr. Corduff was removed to hospital and suffered serious pain and distress for many weeks afterwards. This attack occurred while Gardaí were in close proximity and no satisfactory investigation into the attack has ever taken place.
There are concerns also about the sinking of Pat O’Donnell’s boat the Iona Isle, which was boarded by masked men in June 2009. Pat O’Donnell, recipient of a state bravery award in 2013, and his crewman Martin O’Donnell were attacked and held down while the Iona Isle was holed and sunk under cover of darkness. Some hours later men fitting the description of those who boarded the boat were reported to have been picked up in Killala harbour by a transport vehicle used by the Shell Corrib Gas project. Both Mr. O’Donnell and his crewman were later admitted to Castlebar General hospital.
A further cause for concern relates to an incident on 11th June 2007 where a Garda Superintendent recklessly forced a digger through a group of peaceful protesters at McGrath’s pier. This was reported to GSOC and, after many reminders, the complainant was notified on 30th November 2009 that the matter had been referred to the Garda Commissioner and the complaint was upheld as a breach of discipline. This preliminary finding was made against a named Superintendent, the officer in charge of the district. After many more queries the complainant was finally notified on 26th April 2010 that, in spite of the recommendations and findings of the GSOC in the matter, the Commissioner decided that no breach of discipline “may be disclosed”. The reply to the complainant from the Chairperson of the GSOC clearly illustrates the limitations of GSOC’s role:
“It is important to note that the Act does not ascribe to the Commission a role whereby it can make a finding against a member of the Garda Síochána or the Garda Síochána as an organization.”
It is clear from this that it is not within GSOC’s power to make a finding against a member of An Garda Siochana. Ultimately, therefore it is the Gardai which decides whether a finding is made against themselves. It will also be noted that it took almost 3 years for the complainant to finally receive this highly unsatisfactory outcome. At the end of the day, despite the fact that GSOC found that a breach of discipline had occurred, no action was ever taken to hold the Garda in question to account.
In April 2011 a tape emerged concerning Gardaí involved in the policing of the Corrib Gas Project. These Gardaí, unaware that a camera which they had confiscated was still recording, were taped laughing at their threats to rape (and in one case deport) two female protesters whom they had just arrested and who were being escorted in a separate car back to the police station. This behaviour has serious implications for victims of sexual crime, who would be expected to report such crimes to the Gardai. The women released the recording in the public interest to highlight the culture of policing of the Corrib Gas Project. As a result these women were undermined and let down: by the Gardaí, who leaked their details to the media; by GSOC who falsely stated that they were not cooperating with the investigation, and by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter who claimed that some people were intent on exploiting the incident. Worryingly, GSOC published an interim report in July 2011 which cast doubts on the veracity of the recording – most notably by suggesting that the women had themselves shouted “rape” during the protest, and by referring to another unsubstantiated rumour that the recording had been tampered with. To date no Garda has been disciplined in relation to this incident.
In August last year, The Observer newspaper reported that €35,000 worth of alcohol was delivered to Belmullet Garda station in December 2007 on behalf of Shell. In common with the other issues referred to here, this was never adequately investigated or explained. Without holding such an investigation the impression remains of an unhealthy relationship between the Gardaí and Shell, raising serious questions about the ability of the Gardaí to be independent and impartial.
In 2008 GSOC sought permission from the Minister for Justice, the late Brian Lenihan, to conduct a “practice, policy and procedure” review of the policing of the Corrib Gas Project; this request was denied. Despite the recommendations of many – including Front Line Defenders in its report on policing on the issue – this review has never taken place. Such a review was also a recommendation of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Margaret Sekaggya, following a visit by her to Ireland in 2012. It is now past time for this situation to be rectified.
It is clear from the issues listed here and from many other incidents over the years that attempts to make Gardaí accountable for their actions in policing the Corrib gas project have failed.
It is in this context that we call for an urgent and comprehensive independent enquiry.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Former UN Assistant Secretary General
The Guardian/The Observer
Lecturer UCD and Chairperson of Afri
Actor and playwright
Former Garda Sergeant in Commissioner’s office
Human Rights Activist
Article in the Irish Times about Afri’s call for an independent enquiry: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/archbishop-tutu-calls-for-independent-inquiry-into-policing-of-corrib-gas-project-1.1742403