Speaking in this morning’s Dáil debate on the establishment of a Commission of Investigation into Garda illegal recordings Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD said:
Minister, the succession of bad decisions taken by you, supported by the government, and intended to obstruct proper scrutiny of policing, has done untold damage to public confidence in the administration of justice and to An Garda Siochána.
The latest twist in the succession of scandals and crisis that have emerged on your watch occurred yesterday.
We were told that the government had only become aware that a system was in place in a large number of Garda stations whereby incoming and outgoing telephone calls were being illegally recorded.
The government said that it was ‘extremely concerned about this information.’
Consequently it decided to do what thus far you have refused to do through all of the other crises, and that is to set up a Commission of Investigation.
Within hours all of this had begun to unravel.
We discovered that a Garda Ombudsman report published last June clearly identifies the Garda practice of recording outgoing and incoming calls.
This was not new news!
At that time the Ombudsman said that the ‘Garda Commissioner may wish to re-evaluate his practise regarding the recording of such calls.’
The Ombudsman’s report would have been sent to the Garda Commissioner and to the Department of Justice.
Are we expected to believe that in the midst of all of the other controversies you have been embroiled in that you were not informed of this?
It is not credible that you didn’t know or that you were not told of the Ombudsman’s concern.
We now also know that the Garda Commissioner discussed this issue with the Attorney
General in November – the same month the practise was stopped.
So clearly the Attorney General – a Cabinet colleague and member of the government knew of this illegal recording of conversations for almost six months.
And yet the Taoiseach says he was only told on Sunday.
And you claim to have only heard on Tuesday morning.
In a further twist it was revealed that the former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had written to the Department of Justice two weeks ago about the recordings.
It is reported that he sent a letter to the Secretary General of the Department and asked that it be brought to your attention.
Are we also to believe that you were only told about this issue for the first time on Monday and that you didn’t receive the letter until Tuesday morning?
Minister I’m sure you will understand why many citizens today will be understandably very sceptical about all of this.
Many more will be outraged that under a succession of Minister’s for Justice from Fianna Fáil, Progressive Democrats and Fine Gael that thousands of telephone calls in and out of Garda stations were recorded.
Did these include detained persons speaking to their solicitors?
Minister, this is the latest in a series of debacles around An Garda Siochána, the administration of justice and yourself.
What each of these scandals has demonstrated is an unhealthy close relationship between the Minister for Justice and Equality, and the Garda Commissioner.
Each scandal has highlighted an inability on the Minister's behalf to properly address the serious issues which have emerged for the justice system and for An Garda Síochána.
Instead of new politics and a new way of doing things promised by this government three years ago it’s been the same old, same old approach.
On each occasion, the your first instinct has been to protect the Garda Commissioner rather than get to the bottom of the various allegations without fear or favour.
It began with two Garda whistleblowers, John Wilson and Sergeant Maurice McCabe, raising their concerns regarding the quashing of penalty points by senior gardaí.
You responded by attacking the complainants.
You attacked Teachta Mick Wallace.
You sought to minimise concern about the implementation of the penalty points system by the Garda.
You even went on to the plinth to attack the two whistleblowers in a scurrilous effort to undermine their credibility.
And later you wrongly and disgracefully, accused the Garda whistleblowers of not co-operating with the investigation.
Minister you have yet to correct the public record in that regard.
Subsequently former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, who has enjoyed the your unswerving support, gave evidence to the Committee of Public Accounts and went so far as saying that the actions of the two whistleblowers were ‘disgusting’.
Both you and the Garda Commissioner tried to prevent Sergeant McCabe from giving evidence to the PAC.
Then there was the GSOC scandal: allegations of bugging at the office of the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission.
What was your response?
You sought to put GSOC in the dock, aided by the Taoiseach who misrepresented the Garda Síochána Act implying that GSOC was the law-breaker.
You then summoned the GSOC chairman to his office to explain why you and senior members of the Garda Síochána were not informed about GSOC's suspicions.
This action undermined the independence and integrity of that agency.
You told the Dáil there was nothing there and nothing to see and to move on.
But we then discovered that your statement to the Dáil had sizeable omissions from that sent to you in a written report by GSOC.
Instead of establishing a Commission of Investigation the government appointed retired judge, John Cooke, to carry out a review with terms of reference set by you.
It falls far short of what is required to get to the bottom of that issue.
And now we have this latest revelation.
It was presented by the government as if it knew nothing until the weekend about this latest scandal.
But this ignores the fact that the government through the Department of Justice knew of these illegal recordings as early as last June, and that the Attorney General, the Minister’s Cabinet colleague knew of them also.
So the government did know.
Yet the Taoiseach was not told until Sunday.
And you claim that you knew nothing of this until Tuesday morning.
Minister, by your actions; through your dysfunctional relationship with the Garda Commissioner, and by your failure to deal properly and effectively with a series of highly charged and important issues, you have undermined public confidence in the position of Minister for Justice, in the Department of Justice, in An Garda Siochána and in the administration of Justice.
And the appointment of a Commission of Investigation on this issue will not assuage public concern given the level of public distrust that now exists.
I welcome the fact that the Government has now indicated a belated conversion to the need for a fully accountable, independent Garda Authority, however, the Minister who will have responsibility for overseeing this process, is the very Minister who has been at the heart of all of the recent scandals.
Minister, there is an opportunity for a step change, a new beginning, in policing, in policing structures and the administration of justice in this state; an opportunity to get politicians out of policing matters.
It will be a lost opportunity if you responsible for this process.
To be successful a new beginning to policing in this state needs a new Minister for Justice.
The Taoiseach has said he will not ask you to resign. That is a mistake.
But perhaps you could on this occasion take the right decision and like your friend Martin Callinan resign.
Minister there is widespread public support for An Garda Siochána.
The service has a unique, deep-rooted connections into local communities; connections which the government is actively dismantling through its policy of closing Garda stations.
But there is a culture of bad administration, a lack of accountable and oversight mechanisms and transparency.
This culture which smacks of cronyism, elitism and the corrosive, corruptive relationship with the elites is now evident in other institutions of the state and which the government pledged to root out.
It is a culture that betrays the sacrifice and integrity of rank and file Gardaí.
It is a culture that was evident in the failure to properly investigate cases like those of Fr. Molloy; or the Dublin Monaghan bombings.
It is a culture that stems, to a large degree, from the fact that for many years the legal, judicial and policing system in this state was allowed by political leaders to become an adjunct of British counter insurgency strategy in the north.
This resulted in special non-jury courts, a Heavy Gang within the Gardaí who brutalised people in custody, serious miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions and the abandonment of the principle that all citizens, including suspects held in Garda custody must have rights in our justice system.
It is also evident in the Kerry babies case; in the behaviour of some Garda in Donegal that was exposed by the Morris Tribunal; in the oppressive regime imposed on communities in Rossport in the Taoiseach’s own constituency and in the Kieran Boylan affair where senior Garda protected a drug smuggler.
It was evident in the failure to properly investigate murders like that of Eddie Fullerton.
There is now an opportunity to change this.
That means creating an independent, accountable and transparent Garda Authority.
Sinn Féin welcomes the government’s belated conversion to the necessary reform but it is worth noting that neither Fine Gael of Labour put it in the Programme for Government.
No police service, no senior police officer and no Garda Commissioner should be solely accountable to a politician no matter who that is.
The Garda Commissioner should be fully accountable to that authority, as should joint policing committees, and all of that should be accountable to the Oireachtas.
Minister, policing in this state has been for too long locked into structures that obstruct the building of a modern 21st century, accountable policing service.
Play your part in building it by stepping aside and helping to encourage renewed public confidence in new policing structures.