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Other Questions. - Garda Operations.

Thursday, 17 October 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 555 No. 4

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 9. Ms McManus Information on Liz McManus Zoom on Liz McManus  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  when he expects to receive the report commissioned by his prede cessor into allegations that members of the gardaí used excessive force during clashes with demonstrators in Dublin during a May Day rally in 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18499/02]

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell The circumstances surrounding the events of the demonstration in Dublin on 6 May 2002 are currently under investigation by the Garda Síochána. They have informed me that an investigation file containing certain recommendations in relation to the events of the May Day rally has been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions for his directions.

Quite separately, the Garda Síochána Complaints Board, following receipt of a number of complaints, has undertaken an investigation of the events of 6 May. In the circumstances, therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the issue.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I ought to have tabled a question to the Minister asking how many internal inquiries are going on in his Department and within the Garda Síochána. It seems that a large proportion of the resources of the Garda Síochána must now be tied up with undertaking internal inquiries into events affecting them. Is the Minister concerned about that?

It is lamentable for no conclusion to have been brought before the House so many months after 6 May, given the scenes we saw which, if I may borrow a colourful phrase from Senator Mansergh, were reminiscent of what one would be likely to see in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. Having had the sense of mind to remove their identification numbers beforehand, these robocops waded into a fairly small-scale demonstration, beating up and brutalising innocent protesters.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should confine his remarks to a question.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte It is a question, Sir. Is it not reprehensible that members of the Garda Síochána, having removed their identification numbers, brutalised citizens engaged in a peaceful protest on our streets? Over five months later, we have still had no report from the Garda Síochána as to what transpired, or how blame may be apportioned. Is the Minister concerned about this?

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell The Deputy has the luxury of being able to make those remarks but I am not in a position to comment upon them because, as the Deputy well appreciates, the matter is now with the Director of Public Prosecutions who will make an independent decision. If he decides that the matter should be subjected to the criminal justice process in the courts, my remarks could be seized upon by anybody seeking to claim that [1115] their capacity to receive due process had been prejudiced.

However, the events to which the Deputy has referred do highlight the need for me to bring forward legislation for a Garda inspectorate which would have powers to carry out independent investigations of complaints against members of the Garda Síochána. I will answer a question later on that issue. It is my intention to publish legislation to that end in 2003.

Regarding why it has taken so long, we must remember that the event occurred in circumstances that involved many people. Although the Deputy can draw his conclusions, one necessary element is to interview many people who were potential witnesses to the events under investigation. The fact that the Garda authorities recently forwarded an investigation file to the Director of Public Prosecutions with recommendations indicates the comprehensive nature of the investigation undertaken. As the investigation could potentially lead to criminal proceedings, it was important to establish the full facts and to take whatever time was necessary to do so, bearing in mind the serious nature of the complaints made.

The Garda Síochána board has a separate statutory remit and this was the first time in which it undertook to commit an investigation under section 6(5) of its statute. The board's report may lead to references to the Director of Public Prosecutions or references to the tribunal system within the Garda Síochána or other steps. I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the board's deliberations, but I anticipate that it will complete its them in the relatively near future.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Does the Minister acknowledge that I pose my questions entirely on the basis of what I saw on the television screen? If, as I can understand, he does not want to be drawn into particular cases, does he accept the right of Irish citizens to protest in a peaceful manner on our streets? Is he concerned about the alienation of the public from the Garda as a result of that kind of image being displayed on our television screens?

Has he had any discussions with the Garda Commissioner about the events that transpired accidentally before the eyes of the nation – it was entirely an accident that this appeared on our television screens? If so, what was the outcome of these discussions with the Garda Commissioner? Are any changes planned in the policing of such public protests in the future?

Mr. Cuffe: Information on Ciarán Cuffe Zoom on Ciarán Cuffe Is the Minister aware that the prosecutions of members of the public have moved considerably faster than the internal Garda inquiry into these events? Furthermore, is the Minister aware that the events of May Day [1116] appear to be part of a trend, which commenced with the Garda activity on the Car Free Day on 22 September 2001, continued through the activities of the gardaí at the Burlington Hotel at a conference on public private partnerships later that year and seem to have culminated in the events of 6 May last?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I must call the Minister to reply.

Mr. Cuffe: Information on Ciarán Cuffe Zoom on Ciarán Cuffe It appears there was a change on 22 September this year, which seems to be a step in the right direction, in that the gardaí were very well behaved. However, I am concerned at this trend at the previous three events.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I want to point out that this is Question Time, not time for statements.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I discussed the matter with the Garda Commissioner, but our discussions on this matter, and their outcome, is confidential. I reiterate that I do not want to make any comment in public about these events. If I was to express views in public, bearing in mind the office I hold, undoubtedly they would be leapt upon by some as a pretext for claiming that I was attempting to influence the judicial process in some way or other.

I thank Deputy Cuffe for acknowledging that the second Reclaim the Streets demonstration held recently was policed in an effective manner. I am grateful to him for acknowledging that the event was professionally policed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We must move on to the next question.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan May I ask one short question?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are way over the time limit.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I will not delay the House. Arising from the debate and discussions that took place in the aftermath of that particular incident, will the Minister indicate if any procedural changes have taken place or any directions have been given on the manner and methodology in handling such events?

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I would imagine it is fair to say that lessons have been learned.

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